Augmented Reality Travel Apps are a Gold Rush for Thieves

Lonely Planet’s new augmented reality travel guides are proving hit amongst Android users. Built to use the operating system’s advanced data mapping and navigation features, the applications lay out landmarks and other tourism-focused data across a complete three-dimensional view. With similar technology under the hood to that found on leading iPhone AR apps, the guides are top downloads.

Users can purchase the applications from Google’s Android App Store – the operating system’s main extension and application interface. Priced at just $4.95 each and available for twenty-five different cities. Popular downloads include Sydney, New York City, and San Francisco – three tech-obsessed areas with a reputation for gadgetry. Lonely Planet plans to release maps for other cities shortly.

While the applications have been met with a warm reception from smartphone users, they’re being snapped up even more quickly by muggers and petty thieves. Augmented reality applications tend to leave users unaware of their surroundings and susceptible to simple theft attempts. Reports from smartphone owners reflect a very real trend of augmented reality resulting in snatched handsets.

For those travelling in unsafe cities, the mapping software could end up becoming an unnecessary security risk. However, those in safer cities such as Tokyo and Bangkok are likely to benefit from the specialized instructions and information on offer, all without fear of their handset disappearing into a crowd. If you’re particularly worried, using a wristband can help eliminate grab-n-run theft.

The applications could end up being the step Lonely Planet has needed for the past twenty-four months, as the company has watched digital competition rapidly catch up in usage and ownership rates. With competition in the form of recently acquired WikiTravel and region-specific internet publishers, it appears Lonely Planet has some way to go in winning back travel’s top spot.

Twitter, Facebook Usage Could Lead to ‘Holiday Robberies’

When Vince Hunter switched on his iPhone, the last thing he expected to see was his house being broken into. The Dallas resident was vacationing with family and friends in Connecticut, planning on enjoying the weekend and catching up with good company. Instead, he was forced to sit through a real time broadcast of his own home being burgled, damaged, and violated.

The reason for Hunter’s surprising broadcast is a unique security system. By pairing a new iPhone application – iCam – with his home security system, Vince was able to record the thieves in action as they broke into his home. The footage has since been turned over to police, who plan to use it as evidence in the search for the not-quite-so-discreet criminals.

Hunter is one of many Americans who opted to pair the application with their security system, and his plan is likely to be picked up by more as similar break-ins occur. With Facebook and Twitter so prominent in many of our lives, the importance of digital privacy is becoming more important than ever. Police believe many similar break-ins occur because of people posting holiday plans online.

Thieves can view such information publicly, often plotting to break into residences while the owner is thousands of miles away. Although applications such as iCam go some way towards repairing the obvious threat, they’re rarely enough. Hunter’s security system was programmed to work alongside the device, automatically calling the police department upon detecting movement in the house.

Enjoy your holiday time, but do so responsibly. Given the privacy concerns surrounding services like Facebook and Twitter, it’s essential that users think before posting information that could lead to a break-in or other crime. Online privacy experts have suggested that users keep their travel and leisure plans private, or only reveal them to a network of close friends.

‘Green’ Charges Attract Criticism from Travel Regulators, Tourists

Overseas travel operators are tricking tourists into paying unnecessary ‘green travel’ fees, only to pocked their extra spending to increase profits. A series of recent exposes have covered one of the travel industry’s largest and most widespread scams – the addition of environmental service fees, ‘green’ recycling taxes, and other bogus charges to tourists’ hotel bills in an effort to boost income.

Service fees and booking charges have attracted criticism from travellers, particularly those that discover the extra charges without being aware that they are being added to their bill. The service charges, however, at least maintain a basis in reality and provided service, having contributed to experiences, facilities, and customer services used while travelling.

Regulators have criticised travel providers that apply additional ‘carbon’ fees to hotel and flight bills, despite a lack of official policy regarding the taxes and charges involved. The fees tend to be levied against holidayers after their departure from the hotel in question, leading many to believe that the fees are simply a re-branded version of a decades-old credit card direct access scam.

Travellers that encounter unexpected fees on their hotel bill are advised to take them up with the company in question. When a company has fraudulently charged your account, as is often the case in travel scams and remote credit card usage, it’s best to contact your credit card provider and ask for a ‘charge-back.’ The provider will then hold the funds from the hotel until the cost is resolved.

Environmental groups suggest that the elimination of bogus green charges will pave the way for greater consumer acceptance of legitimate ‘green’ taxes, particularly those that contribute to park and air quality improvement efforts. For travellers, the hidden fees remain an annoyance, costing Britain’s independent tourists anywhere from £5 to £50 per occurrence.