Love her or hate her, Kim Kardashian’s recent robbery at gunpoint — bound, gagged, and locked in her hotel suite’s bathroom while gun-wielding thieves stole over 10 million dollars’ worth of jewelry, technology, and personal belongings — has given rise to an important discussion about personal safety in the age of social media. In the past, our updates on a celebrity’s whereabouts were confined to paparazzi photos which generally wouldn’t be posted until days after an event. These days, however, social media applications like Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat make it possible to share a much greater volume of personal information, and celebrities like the Kardashians keep the public continuously up-to-date by posting about their lives on a near-hourly basis.
It isn’t just celebrities sharing this wealth of information, however. Social media is an integral part of everyday life for the general public too. Snapchat alone boasts an average of 400 million
photographs and videos shared every day. Each of these posts automatically includes the user’s location, and it has been suggested that Kim Kardashian’s numerous snaps during her stay in Paris may have made it possible for the thieves to track her down without ever being spotted.
This issue had been discussed, in fact, on a recent episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians, which tackled the issue of social media location sharing. Kim’s half-sister, Kylie Jenner, had fallen victim to a stalker, and the family discussed how her Instagram sharing (always including her location) may have made her particularly vulnerable. This issue received high-profile media attention during the so-called Bling Ring robberies of 2008, when a group of LA teenagers tracked celebrities’ whereabouts through online posts and ransacked their houses when the celebs were away. At the time, these violations seemed worlds away from the general public. What kind of average Joe could be tracked through photos of them going to restaurants and on weekend trips?
These days, however, many people share information about themselves online. Check through your own recent social media posts; you’ll probably find that a surprising number give away your whereabouts either directly (the app includes your location by default) or indirectly (you or your friends mention where you are). Sometimes you don’t even have complete control over the situation, as friends or family post about you without your knowledge.
It used to be enough to leave the radio on to fool robbers when you went on vacation, but now a social media post (that you didn’t even send) could give away the information that your home is empty, or that you’re out at a bar with your expensive phone. You could easily find yourself in Kim Kardashian’s position. Maybe you don’t have jewelry worth millions of dollars with you at any given moment, but you probably have something you’d be devastated to lose, and an armed robbery is a terrifying prospect for anyone.
This form of crime isn’t restricted to the super-famous, super-rich, or super-active on social media. Even the average person can be tracked through social media posting, and innovative criminals are using these posts to find new targets. Social media applications are bringing the world closer together and creating new means of communication, but you shouldn’t dive headfirst into over-sharing without considering the risks.
Make sure to keep your profile on private (see tip #9) so that only people you’ve connected with can see your posts, and accept only people that you know and trust. Alternatively, if you are adamant about keeping your location information public, then save media to your phone while it’s on Airplane Mode and post it later, so that your location can’t be tracked continuously; ask your friends to do the same.
Social media sharing can feel like a necessity, but there are ways to keep yourself safe once you’re aware of the risks. Keep your location and public access to a limit and stay safe. This is one thing that you certainly don’t want to have in common with the Kardashians.
Adam Quirk is a criminal justice professional with over 15 years’ investigative experience.