According to Christelle Fourie, Managing Director of MUA Insurance, the executive home and motor insurer, Google Street View allows anyone to view the security features of a home, such as spikes, electric fencing, walls and the entire perimeter of a property. "Criminals are becoming increasingly sophisticated in the types of technology they employ to plan a burglary and sites like these can actually aid someone in doing this."
Google Street View has already been criticised internationally for its invasion of privacy. A survey in the UK, conducted by myvouchercodes.co.uk, found that 57 per cent of respondents though the the street mapping service was an ‘intrusion' while 24 per cent said that they believed it was ‘a service for burglars'.
Fourie says Street View is just one of a number of new online websites that are putting people at increased risk. "Sites such as Facebook and Twitter invite people to disclose personal information such as what they are doing at that moment and where they are. People also post details such as holiday plans and when they will be away from home, giving criminals all the information they need to plan a burglary."
Facebook is already one of the most popular websites in South Africa, with 2.8m users, according to the latest survey by Facebakers, a portal that collates Facebook statistics on all countries. The website also recently came under fire for changing its privacy settings to make people's profiles more open, without properly informing its users.
Fourie says people should be careful how much information they provide when using social networking sites and who they disclose this information to. "Besides the immediate risks they are exposing themselves to by disclosing sensitive information, they could also be faced with increased insurance premiums in the future."
"Insurance premiums are based on a risk assessment of each individual. At the moment online activity is generally not considered part of an individual's assessment, however, with new online services launching all the time, insurers may soon have to start taking account of people's online habits."
She adds that the increasing popularity of smart phones in South Africa such as the Blackberry and the iPhone may also pose a major security risk for people. "Many of these phones have features such as Facebook, email and personal calendars built in without password protection, so if a criminal gets hold of one of these phones, they have instant access to sensitive personal information."
Fourie says people can take the following steps to protect themselves such as:
Make sure all features and applications are password protected on your phone
Regularly update your passwords and never divulge them to anyone else
Do not ever post your home address or any other information such as your home phone number online:
- Make sure all features and applications are password protected on your phone
- Regularly update your passwords and never divulge them to anyone else
- Do not ever post your home address or any other information such as your home phone number online
- Don't follow people you don't know on social media sites and block people from viewing personal information if you don't know them
- Turn off any location-based applications unless absolutely necessary