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They should have called it the stalker app

Apr 03, 20123 mins
PrivacySecuritySocial Networking Apps

When privacy is invaded, we are often our own worst enemies. We willingly put too much information on Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare. But that truth doesn’t make the “Girls Around Me” app any less vile.

This is social networking at its worst, something that should have been named the “Stalker” app instead.

IDG News Service writer Cameron Scott captures the appropriate outrage in his latest article, which is running on CSO and other IDG publications:

The makers of the mobile app Girls Around Me came under fire Monday for helping men to “stalk” unsuspecting women, but the incident also reveals how much we still have to learn about what social networks reveal about us.

The app collected data from FourSquare, showing local bars where women had checked in, and matched that with information from their Facebook profile, including photos and sometimes their dating status. The end result was that the app’s users could see how many single women were in a particular nightspot, what they looked like and what their names were.

Fortunately, according to the article, FourSquare blocked the app’s use of its API, saying it violated its privacy policies. That forced its developer, i-Free, to pull Girls Around Me from the App Store.

Since much of the information the app draws from is freely and publicly available online — particularly on Facebook, where people post sultry pictures of themselves and tell you everything about them — some will say that an app like this is fair game; that the only women the app pinpoints are those who want to be found.

To me, that’s as ridiculous as saying someone deserves to be raped because they were coming on to their attacker with a short shirt and skimpy, revealing top.

In Cameron’s story, Future of Privacy Forum Director Jules Polonetsky says, “When you see something so out of context with what you expect, it ends up being shocking. I get that when I’m out in a big crowd, I’m not secret. But it’s still seems bizarre if someone scans every face in the crowd and then somehow identifies it. It seems to push beyond the appropriate context.”

I’ll take that a step further: This app is an enabler for those who can’t control their darker, sexual impulses. True, they don’t need such an app to find victims, but “Girls Around Me” makes their mission all the easier.

The ultimate lesson is that we need to take greater care in what we share online. Some details just aren’t worth including.