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