Broadcasting from home – an open invitation?

19 May 2020

How to manage the risks and stay safe

While we live out this period of isolation, we’re all looking for ways to stay connected - and artists, actors, and musicians are no exception. Like many of us, entertainers are engaging in videos, live streaming, and other social media activity as a way to keep in touch with fans and keep everyone’s sprits up. We’re also seeing online fitness stars in the ascent – as every fitness guru takes to social media to offer virtual classes from HIIT to yoga.

Whether you’re an award-winning musician, a budding virtual PE teacher, or simply posting your latest TikTok effort online, common sense tells us that we shouldn’t invite strangers into our home - yet we are unintentionally doing just that.

So what do we need to be aware of, and how can we manage the risks?

Access all areas

It may seem harmless enough for artists to give fans a glimpse of their homes online – after all, we don’t know their address, and most of us do this without a second thought. But video broadcasting from home can reveal a considerable volume of information about you, including clues as to where you live, personal interests and physical details of your property. This puts not only your privacy but, potentially, your physical safety at risk too. While this risk applies to anyone who uses video online, it is even more significant for anyone in the public eye.

With fans having increasing levels of access (albeit virtually) to the homes and lives of the rich and famous, it’s not unusual to see people commenting on every aspect of what they see. Social media can fuel this, with accounts such as one on Twitter, in which fans grade the houses of the celebrities they follow. So far, so unsurprising you might think - but it’s the level of information available which stands out.

Open house

People in the public eye understandably spend a great deal of time and effort putting boundaries in place to minimise intrusion into their lives. But by sharing videos of their homes online, they may unintentionally provide access to information which both the media and hostile third parties such as criminals or stalkers can use. A short video can easily provide content for the press to publish, as well as enough information for someone with malicious intent to target the property or the individual themselves.

The sum of its parts

One small nugget of information can be enough for a stalker to start investigating other publicly available sources (for example, property sales and purchase records) for further details. And with social media providing a wealth of personal data, you don’t need to look far to learn more. Put all this information together, and it’s a dream come true for a stalker or anyone else intending to harm. Although physical stalking may not be so easy during lockdown, perpetrators might look to harass their victims via social media instead. The people who carry out this kind of criminal activity often remain anonymous, hiding behind aliases and private servers.

A very real concern

Last year a Japanese man accused of stalking and sexually assaulting a Japanese singer told police he located her through the reflection in her eyes in a selfie she posted. He told police he zoomed in on the image and then used Google Street View to identify the photo’s location. He also studied videos the woman shot in her apartment, looking at the placement of curtains and the direction of light coming through the window to determine its location and which floor she lived on.

While who can forget when Kim Kardashian West was robbed while on holiday in Paris? The perpetrators in that incident told French police that they obtained much of the information required from her social media posts, including the fact she claimed “never to wear fake jewellery”.

Know your limits

A good place to start if you want to minimise your risk - something worth doing whether you are in the public eye or not - is to limit the amount of accessible information about you to a level at which you feel comfortable. Make sure your privacy, tracking, and location settings reflect this and have a clear understanding of the information that is already out in the open about you. Consider what may be in view. Is there any private or personal information on show? Or anything that could give your location away – a shelf with a local directory or a local takeaway menu in view? If in doubt, a plain background may be best.

If you have a fan or follower-base, set your trigger points so that in the heat of the moment you can identify when activity moves from superfan to harassment and, or, the threat of physical harm. Perhaps most important of all, have a plan ready so that you know how to respond and can do so immediately - should you ever need to.

Regularly reviewing your physical and cyber security arrangements is also a good idea. You should consider calling in experts to help with this.

Keep records of any untoward activity and be prepared to provide information and access to professionals if an issue does manifest itself. Being able to identify a culprit and put a plan into action quickly will save a considerable amount of uncertainty and likely significant costs too.

While we remain in lockdown, it could be easy to let ourselves get complacent about the risks of sharing our lives online, particularly as this activity is one of the only ways we have to engage with the world outside our doorstep. We should not lose sight of the fact that it’s also a way to let people in – making it all the more important that we think carefully about what we allow into the public domain.

If you share videos from your house online, ask yourself this: do you really know who you are letting into your home?

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About the Author

Matthew Newton

SCR Operations Manager

Matthew is an experienced intelligence professional who provides investigative research services to help clients identify and manage reputation and privacy risks.

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