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.