Home exchange networks are exposing your information publicly

The recent Facebook data leak case with Cambridge Analytica has caused people to think more carefully about how their personal information is exposed online. It has certainly made me more aware of this issue. While working on updates to my home exchange network reviews I noticed that most networks make a lot of information about their members public. In fact most information that you enter into your member profile on most house swap networks can be viewed by anyone who visits the website of that network. Even if they don’t sign up for membership.

For instance, when browsing around on LoveHomeSwap I can see the following information about members:

  • Full home descriptions
  • Personal information about the member and their family
  • Previous swap reviews
  • Pictures of the members and their home
  • Availability calendars
  • A map showing the home locations (within a small circle)

I can think of a lot of nefarious uses for this information. It’s basically advertising when the family will be away from  home. With a picture of the front of the house (which most people include) and a small area on the map to search, it would be easy to find the home. And these pictures often accidentally display what items of value are in the home, to help robbers select high value targets.

Advertising a weekend when your home will be unoccupied

Even without nefarious uses in mind, I doubt home exchange members are thinking that anyone with an internet connection can view their family descriptions.

I doubt anyone intends for this sort of information to be viewable to the general public (from LoveHomeSwap)

This same public exposure of private information is true for HomeExchange.com, GuesttoGuest, Intervac, even HomeLink which I think used to hide information from non-members (though they don’t show a calendar of availability). I was hard pressed to find house swap networks with ANY data privacy protections for members.

I feel like I’m invading people’s privacy reading about their family

I recently wrote about my failed attempts to join the new home exchange network Holiday Swap. As an app based membership organization at least they are protecting member’s information as you can’t see anything without joining.

Some, like ExchangeZones, Home for Swap and Inervac actually put a pin on a map exactly where the home is located.

Interactive google maps show exactly where homes are located on ExchangeZones

There are some networks with restrictions. For instance, Your Home for Mine and House Swap Holidays only show reviews to members. Of course this is often the least revealing information. Third Home restrictions the calendar of availability from non-member views.

Much as I’m annoyed by networks like Behomm where I can’t count members or review features without paying for a membership, I do appreciate their protection of their members’ privacy. Unfortunately there are very few networks with this policy.

So I’m putting this out as a challenge to home exchange networks. I know you want to attract new members. And showing people all the awesome places they could stay with a home swap on your network is tempting to use as free advertising. But I think your members are eventually going to rebel against this practice as people become more aware of the dangers of public exposure of their private information. What can you do to better protect your members’ data? If you’re one of the few networks with data privacy protections, cudos, feel free to speak up about how and why you are protecting members’ information.

8 Comments

  1. Well maybe we should be all Emailing those site management teams to ask us if they have signed up to the new data protection regulations, how they are applying them and how they are ensuring our information is only available to members. If potential miscreants think of paying to join then it is upto us individually what information we consider confidential versus ok sharing and what photos we could imagine would be suificently attractive to make a thief plan his foul deeds through Home exchange sites.

    • dawnzerly

      May 3, 2018 at 6:09 pm

      I definitely think it’s worth asking the management teams what they’re doing on this front. And you’re right we also need to be conscious about what info we are sharing since we obviously can’t rely on the networks to keep this information private

  2. Hi. Good article,you’re right about This. I will transmit for GuestToGuest website to the team.

    • dawnzerly

      May 3, 2018 at 6:09 pm

      Thanks! I hope to hear a response from them and other networks about what more can be done on this front.

  3. Interesting article. I set up People Like Us (https://peoplelikeus.world) to offer private home exchange networks (“circles”) for people who don’t want to advertise their home publicly.

    We limit information available publicly already but we’ll review our policies based on the information in this article. I think it’s a really good reminder about our responsibilities to protect consumer information.

    In the meantime though, you can set up a private home swap network for free on People Like Us and no information is visible to anyone you don’t invite to the network.

    • dawnzerly

      May 3, 2018 at 6:13 pm

      Thanks for the comment Drew! I think a private home swap network is a great way to protect privacy, but it requires you to know people already with whom you want to swap. So the trick here is figuring out a balance between exposing information vs. finding swap partners. I see that on People Like Us you do have information exposed about people who have opted into the public network. Do let me know if you think there’s something more that can or should be done on that front. I certainly don’t have the solutions to this problem, just putting it out there for discussion.

      • Hi Dawn, Nice to meet you!

        I think some people are perfectly happy to share publicly and others are not so I set up People Like Us to allow either. I’m not aware of any other site where you can set up your own private network.

        It won’t be for everyone but I’ve done it so that you can set your own rules as to who is allowed to join the circle, whether others can invite others or only you, etc. If the Circle is private, and a home is only a member of private Circles, it will be completely invisible publicly.

        I thought I also might set up a Circle marketplace so that two Circles could join (or “twin”!). I thought it might be good if people knew a lot of people locally and wanted to join with another like-minded club or something internationally.

        We do have some information exposed publicly but we don’t expose calendars or even neighbourhoods until you register and list your own home, and you’ll never see an address until a swap is accepted. I think it’s a balance but I’m certainly open to ideas and will respond quickly to feedback. Let me know what you think.

        Thanks for raising it though. It really is exactly the reason that I built the site in the first place: that not everyone would be happy to be so public about showing or swapping their homes publicly.

        Cheers,
        Drew
        https://peoplelikeus.world

  4. Hi.
    I asked the Guesttoguest’s team about this matter.

    I had an answer explaining to summarize : They need to let informations available to have a good indexing on the search engines, which is really important for the website…But they asked us (the ambassadors) what we think could be left and what could be hidden.
    For now, that’s all, we’ll see if something will change about this, we will continue to talk about it soon.
    bye

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

*

Subscribe to Blog via Email

© 2018 Travel Adventures in the Sharing Economy

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑