Cult of Mac has a great write-up of an app for iOS called Girls Around Me, which essentially displays the public check-ins and profiles of girls around you. With a little shift in context it could easily be confused for a hot new startup (discoverability meets speed dating!), but no, it really is just a way for guys to creep on nearby girls who have failed to lock down their info.
It’s sad, but maybe something like this is what people need to shock them into understanding just how much information they put online.
The app itself is pretty much straight-up stalker material, but the fact is it uses publicly available information — information that, really, is being deliberately broadcast. There is a larger debate to be had about the nature of privacy and how information like location and profiles should be handled, and many subtle points to be made. But right now it seems that things must be done in broad strokes, and it’s mainly broadly offensive things like this app that will bring attention to the issue.
It’s perfect fodder for evening news debates: “After the break, we talk with our tech experts about a new app that lets you track women in your area without their knowledge.” And that’s a good thing: the more exposure the problem gets, the better. Many of the people being tracked by this app, male and female, haven’t even considered the idea that their movements might be tracked systematically by a stranger.
For example: all these options in Foursquare default to on, which is really fine, since after all the service is about sharing your location. And linking it to your Facebook or Twitter account is a natural step for many. But at the same time it’s easy to fail to understand that one is providing a sort of path that strangers can follow from a face on the street to a name, other photos, current location, and a number of other things.
Girls Around Me is a shortcut for creeps, but it’s not like it had to do anything illegal or complicated to get this information. A handful of public APIs is all it took to put a faces on a map and link them to a trove of personal data.
Apps like this one are distasteful, sure, but they are also important ways to show how exposed many of our friends and peers are. An understanding of social media is not prerequisite to its use, and many are ignorant of the level to which their actions and data are public. With any luck, Girls Around Me and its ilk will convince these people to take their own privacy seriously.
Update: Foursquare has reached out to say that the app was in violation of their API policy, so they’ve revoked access. I feel safer already!