Scientists at Blekinge Technical College (Blekinge tekniska högskola – BTH) used reported crime data provided by south Sweden police to analyze burglary patterns.
In some cases, they even helped the police solve burglaries because a known thief had a very specific modus operandi, although researcher Martin Boldt said he did not have the exact number of crime-busting data analyses at hand.
Some of the findings were old news. Houses at the end of a street and houses with gardens backing onto a forest were more at risk. A family that had an alarm system visible, however, was less likely to be burgled. Having a dog also helped cut the risk.
Among the 120 factors used to analyze burglary trends, one was dubbed simply "The Facebook Box". Had the victim talked about going away on the their social media accounts?
"I don't want to say there is no risk, as it's always a bad idea to write online that you're going away, but the risk was insignificant, or very small," said Boldt, who himself will happily post pictures or update his status while on holiday.
"But only after Facebook made privacy settings easier to manage a few years back," he told The Local.
The researchers did not only look at Facebook, but other social media, blogs and chat forums. While there were a few cases of reported social media activity and a house being emptied, they were few and far between.
Boldt, however, pointed out that the police may not yet have gotten into the routine of asking the victim about social media behaviour.
"Or the police interview a parent, who has no idea that their kid has talked about the vacation online," Boldt said.
The risks of announcing your absence online has been a topic of debate ever since social media took off, but Boldt said that real life situations could still pose a more concrete risk.
"Listen, as a burglar, you cruise up and down the street Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, then on Thursday you hit up the house that's obviously empty," he said. "Thieves are lazy, they go for the easiest options, like peering into your mail box to see if the post has piled up."
And rather than that longed-for trip to Thailand, it could be quite mundane weekend fun like going to Ikea that puts a family at risk, he said.
"If they see the entire Svensson family traipse out of a car at the mall – mum, dad, three kids – they know no one is home," he said, also mentioning ferries, the Öresundsbron bridge, and other places with a lot of people in motion as places where organized gangs of thieves could be looking up a car plate and to which address it is registered.
"It doesn't cost a lot of kronor to look up a registration number, so you'll feed several into the data base until you find a house which is nearby and in a good spot," he told The Local.