Stalking women? There’s an app for that.

Girls Around Me lets users track neighborhood girls and read their Facebook profiles

girlsaround.me

This suggestive geometry app was deemed unacceptable by Apple’s fickle censors, but here’s something that made the cut: Girls Around Me, an app for “hunting” women. It’s a simple tool that aggregates personal location data from Facebook and FourSquare from strangers who have (knowingly or otherwise) left their profiles set to “public.” Girls Around Me looks for girls around you and plots them on a Google Map. Click on a nearby girl and the app will pull their information and photos for your creepy stalking pleasure. Would be pick-up artists (and/or rapists) can troll a neighbourhood, gleaning the relationship status, academic histories, likes and dislikes, and vacation photos of women they’ve never met who happen to be walking close by.

Girls Around Me was downloaded over 70,000 times before Cult of Mac wrote about it last week. To call the ensuing discourse a “controversy” would be to suggest that someone out there doesn’t think that the App is gross and dangerous. Even its Russian developer, i-Free Innovations, responded with a “yeah, we know” of sorts, and voluntarily pulled it from iTunes’ App store. But even as they did, they issued a statement complaining about being treated as a “scapegoat” in the privacy debate.

And they’re right.

It’s not Girls Around Me that exposed women. These women exposed themselves. But many (most?) of them did not know it. What i-Free has unintentionally illustrated is the logical result of mixing social media oversharing with GPS and third party developers. The lesson here is not about one distasteful Russian app developer. It’s about the need to revisit the flimsy “consent” we give Facebook, Foursquare and others to share our data with whomever they choose. Clicking “I agree” on a nuisance screen when signing up for an account or an app is simply not enough of a warning for what might come next.

Jesse Brown is the host of TVO.org’s Search Engine podcast. He is on Twitter @jessebrown




Browse

Stalking women? There’s an app for that.

  1. Its surprising that a number of media outlets are talking about how this app isn’t actually doing anything revolutionary, simply aggregating public information about people into a creepy format. But still the only way people are actually dealing with it is to attack the app itself, but to deal with the public firehose of personal information that people are convinced to give out for the equivalent of “shiny beads” affects the bottom line of too many companies negatively that no one wants to do it.

  2. I firmly believe that it is Facebook that is the problem. Facebook makes money by selling our details. They have every reason to want any of the details we have entered into Facebook to be accessible by potential advertisers, which means that they have every reason to *not* warn people about the consequences of exposing their information to the internet.  Consequences which most people simply don’t understand because we have no real concept in our heads about how “exposing” something to the internet isn’t like just standing on a public street-corner  – where you have equal opportunity to see what everybody else around is doing, but rather like having a billion telescopes focused on you from miles away, where you have no idea who anybody using any of them is.

    Expose yourself to the internet and it’s not just your friends and family who can look at it, it’s that pervert who, right now, is jerking off over your picture and looking for your address. It’s that Jeffry Dahmer wanna-be who’s trying to decide if you’d fit into a barrel. And even if the number of those people are an amazingly small minority it only takes one to screw up your life big-time.

    Yet there’s no way in hell Facebook wants you to be thinking about that.  So when an app comes out that demonstrates, easily and simply, what Facebook can actually do, people flip out because they suddenly have to face that ugly truth.  

    And Lord knows most of us would rather keep our heads in the sand than face ugly truths.

    • the pornographers have known this for a long time

  3. Couldn’t agree more Jesse. It’s not the App that’s at fault, it’s the data. I seem to recall when Foursquare first came out, there was news (or at least rumours) that some nefarious individuals were using public Check-Ins as an indication that a person wasn’t at home, and they were using that to time break-ins to houses.

    But it’s the aggregate data that really scares the crap outta me. Not even the “Who’s around me” type, but the fact that marketers will conceivably have access to every place you’ve ever “checked into”, and being able to plug that into some future-predicting analytics software to predict where you’ll be in the future at certain times. This data could be used for good, but it can definitely also be used for evil.

    Personally, I’ve disabled every thing I can think of that uses location, ditched my iPhone to return to the warm comforts of my Nokia 6010, and don’t have to worry about how Apple or Google is trying to get more information outta me at any given moment. 

  4. In the end there does not appear to be any difference between the bogeyman China and the “Free & Democratic” environment of Anglo-American Capitalism and the transnational Corporations. Germany is more observant; and we fear the rise of Fascism. choose!

  5. I’v got an idea for an app – it detects guys who have this app installed on their phones. It’s called “Douchebags Around Me”. What’d'ya think?

  6. And of course, the fact that our phone numbers are in the phone book makes it our own fault if we get harrassing phone calls.

    http://techcrunch.com/2012/03/31/creating-victims-and-then-blaming-them/

    These services (and the respective apps) make it very hard to find out exactly what kind of information they are accessing/sharing.  And when they do, the defaults don’t really make sense.

    Take the XBox Live Facebook app, for example.  If you set it up, your friends on Facebook can see your XBox Live IDs, however, everybody on XBox Live can see your Facebook profile.

    Really?  Who thought that was smart?

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *