This Creepy App Isn’t Just Stalking Women Without Their Knowledge, It’s A Wake-Up Call About Facebook Privacy [Update]

This Creepy App Isn’t Just Stalking Women Without Their Knowledge, It’s A Wake-Up Call About Facebook Privacy [Update]

This app is meant to all be in good fun, but it's potentially a weapon in the hands of stalkers.

“Boy, you sure have a lot of apps on your phone.”

“Well, it’s my job.”

“What’s your favorite?”

“Oh, I couldn’t choose. But hey, want to see one to set your skin crawling?”

It was the flush end of a pleasurably hot day — 85 degrees in March — and we were all sipping bitter cocktails out in my friend’s backyard, which was both his smoking room, beer garden, viticetum, opossum parlor and barbecue pit. I was enjoying the warm dusk with a group of six of my best friends, all of whom seemed interested, except for my girlfriend… who immediately grimaced.

Girls Around Me? Again?” she scolded. “Don’t show them that.”

She turned to our friends, apologetically.

“He’s become obsessed with this app. It’s creepy.”

I sputtered, I nevered, and I denied it, but it was true. I had become obsessed with Girls Around Me, an app that perfectly distills many of the most worrying issues related to social networking, privacy and the rise of the smartphone into a perfect case study that anyone can understand.

It’s an app that can be interpreted many ways. It is as innocent as it is insidious; it is just as likely to be reacted to with laughter as it is with tears; it is as much of a novelty as it has the potential to be used a tool for rapists and stalkers.

And more than anything, it’s a wake-up call about privacy.

The only way to really explain Girls Around Me to people is to load it up and show them how it works, so I did. I placed my iPhone on the table in front of everyone, and opened the app.

The splash screen elicited laughter all around. It’s such a bitmap paean to the tackiest and most self-parodying of baller “culture”; it might as well be an app Tom Haverford slapped together in Parks And Recreation. But it does, at a glance, sum up what Girls Around Me is all about: a radar overlaid on top of a Google Map, out of which throbs numerous holographic women posing like pole dancers in a perpetual state of undress.

“Okay, so here’s the way the app works,” I explained to my friends.

Girls Around Me is a standard geolocation based maps app, similar to any other app that attempts to alert you to things of interest in your immediate vicinity: whether it be parties, clubs, deals, or what have you. When you load it up, the first thing Girls Around Me does is figure out where you are and load up a Google Map centered around your location. The rest of the interface is very simple: in the top left corner, there’s a button that looks like a radar display, at the right corner, there’s a fuel meter (used to fund the app’s freemium model), and on the bottom left is a button that allows you to specify between whether you’re interested in women, men or both.

It’s when you push the radar button that Girls Around Me does what it says on the tin. I pressed the button for my friends. Immediately, Girls Around Me went into radar mode, and after just a few seconds, the map around us was filled with pictures of girls who were in the neighborhood. Since I was showing off the app on a Saturday night, there were dozens of girls out on the town in our local area.

This Creepy App Isn’t Just Stalking Women Without Their Knowledge, It’s A Wake-Up Call About Facebook Privacy [Update]

Girls Around Me's splash screen (left) and geo-maps interface (right). Lots of girls around the MFA.

“Wait… what? Are these girls prostitutes?” one of my friends asked, which given the Matrix-like silhouettes posing on the splash screen was a pretty good question.

“Oh, no,” I replied. “These are just regular girls. See this girl? Her name’s Zoe. She lives on the same street as me and Brittany. She works at a coffee shop, and I’m pretty sure she doesn’t moonlight picking up tricks.”

“How does it know where these girls are? Do you know all these girls? Is it plucking data from your address book or something?” another friend asked.

“Not at all. These are all girls with publicly visible Facebook profiles who have checked into these locations recently using Foursquare. Girls Around Me then shows you a map where all the girls in your area trackable by Foursquare area. If there’s more than one girl at a location, you see the number of girls there in a red bubble. Click on that, and you can see pictures of all the girls who are at that location at any given time. The pictures you are seeing are their social network profile pictures.”

“Okay, so they know that their data can be used like this for anyone to see? They’re okay with it? ”

“Probably not, actually. The settings determining how visible your Facebook and Foursquare data is are complicated, and tend to be meaningless to people who don’t really understand issues about privacy,” I explained. “Most privacy settings on social networks default to share everything with everyone, and since most people never change those… well, they end up getting sucked up into apps like this.”

“But they know they’ve checked in, right?”

“Again, not necessarily. Foursquare lets you check other people into a location. If you get checked into Foursquare by a friend without your knowledge and have a publicly visible Facebook profile, you could end up in here.” (Update: Apparently, I wasn’t correct about this. Foursquare does NOT allow you to check other people in with you without their knowledge; I was confusing Foursquare for Facebook, which does offer this functionality. Thanks for the correction, unknown8bit! – JRB)

One of my less computer-affable friends actually went pale, and kept on shooting her boyfriend looks for assurance. A Linux aficionado who was the only person in our group without a Facebook account (and one of the few people I’d ever met who actually endorsed Diaspora), the look he returned was one of comical smugness.

“But wait! It gets worse!” I said, ramping things up.

“So let’s say I’m a bro, looking to go out for a night on the town and pick someone up. Let’s say I’m going to the Independent around the corner, and checking it out ahead of time, I really like the look of this girl Zoe — she looks like a girl I might want to try to get with tonight — so I tap her picture for more information, see what I can find out about here.”

I tapped on Zoe. Girls Around Me quickly loaded up a fullscreen render of her Facebook profile picture. The app then told me where Zoe had last been seen (The Independent) and when (15 minutes ago). A big green button at the bottom reading “Photos & Messaging” just begged to be tapped, and when I did, I was whisked away to Zoe’s Facebook profile.

“Okay, so here’s Zoe. Most of her information is visible, so I now know her full name. I can see at a glance that she’s single, that she is 24, that she went to Stoneham High School and Bunker Hill Community College, that she likes to travel, that her favorite book is Gone With The Wind and her favorite musician is Tori Amos, and that she’s a liberal. I can see the names of her family and friends. I can see her birthday.”

“All of that is visible on Facebook?” one of the other girls in our group asked.

“More, depending on how your privacy settings are configured! For example, I can also look at Zoe’s pictures.”

I tapped on the photo album, and a collection of hundreds of publicly visible photos loaded up. I quickly browsed them.

“Okay, so it looks like Zoe is my kind of girl. From her photo albums, I can see that she likes to party, and given the number of guys she takes photos with at bars and clubs at night, I can deduce that she’s frisky when she’s drunk, and her favorite drink is a frosty margarita. She appears to have recently been in Rome. Also, since her photo album contains pictures she took at the beach, I now know what Zoe looks like in a bikini… which, as it happens, is pretty damn good.”

My girlfriend scowled at me. I assured her Zoe in a bikini was no comparison, and moved on.

“So now I know everything to know about Zoe. I know where she is. I know what she looks like, both clothed and mostly disrobed. I know her full name, her parents’ full names, her brother’s full name. I know what she likes to drink. I know where she went to school. I know what she likes and dislikes. All I need to do now is go down to the Independent, ask her if she remembers me from Stoneham High, ask her how her brother Mike is doing, buy her a frosty margarita, and start waxing eloquently about that beautiful summer I spent in Roma.”

This Creepy App Isn’t Just Stalking Women Without Their Knowledge, It’s A Wake-Up Call About Facebook Privacy [Update]

The Girls of Girls Around Me. It's doubtful any of these girls even know they are being tracked. Their names and locations have been obscured for privacy reasons.

Throughout this demonstration, my group of friends had been split pretty evenly along gender lines in their reactions. Across the board, the men either looked amused or (in the case of my beardo Diaspora friend) philosophically pleased with themselves about their existing opinions about social networking. The women, on the other hand, looked sick and horrified.

It was at this point, though, that the tendrils of the girls’ unease — their deeply empathic sense of someone being unsafe — seemed to creep through the entire group.

“And if that doesn’t work on Zoe,” I concluded, consulting the app one last time. “There are — let’s see — nine other girls at the Independent tonight.”

Often times, a writer uses tricks and exaggerations to convey to a reader the spirit — if not the precise truth — of what occurred. I just want to make clear that when I say that one of my friends was actually on the verge of tears, you understand that this is not such a trick. She was horrified to the point of crying.

“How can Apple let people download an app like this?” she asked. “And have you written about this?”

In answer to the first question, I replied that as sleazy as this app seemed, Girls Around Me wasn’t actually doing anything wrong. Sure, on the surface, it looks like a hook-up app like Grindr for potential stalkers and date rapists, but all that Girls Around Me is really doing is using public APIs from Google Maps, Facebook and Foursquare and mashing them all up together, so you could see who had checked-in at locations in your area, and learn more about them. Moreover, the girls (and men!) shown in Girls Around Me all had the power to opt out of this information being visible to strangers, but whether out of ignorance, apathy or laziness, they had all neglected to do so. This was all public information. Nothing Girls Around Me does violates any of Apple’s policies.

In fact, Girls Around Me wasn’t even the real problem.

“It’s not, really, that we’re all horrified by what this app does, is it?” I asked, finishing my drink. “It’s that we’re all horrified by how exposed these girls are, and how exposed services like Facebook and Foursquare let them be without their knowledge.”

But I didn’t have an easy answer ready for my friend’s last question. I’d been playing with the app for almost two months. Why hadn’t I written about it? None of the answers made me look good.

Part of it was because, like many tech professionals, I had taken for granted that people understood that their Facebook profiles and Foursquare data were publicly visible unless they explicitly said otherwise… and like my beardo Diaspora friend, I secretly believed that people who were exposed this way on the Internet without their knowledge were foolish.

That made Girls Around Me a funny curio, a titillating novelty app, the kind of thing you pulled out with your buddies at the bar to laugh about… and maybe secretly wish had been around when you were younger and single and trying to pull some action. And if I’d written a post about it a month ago, it would have probably been from that angle. The headline might well have been: “No More Sausage Fests With Girls Around Me [Humor]”

It was in just this spirit that I’d shown off the app to my friends in the first place. It was getting late, we were all drunk or on the verge of getting there, and it had been a perfect day. It would have been so nice to finish things with a laugh. But now, as six intelligent, sophisticated friends from a variety of backgrounds surrounded me — some looking sick, some looking angry, and some with genuine fear in their faces — I didn’t think Girls Around Me was so funny. It had cast a pall across a beautiful day, and it had made people I loved feel scared… not just for the people they loved, but for complete strangers.

So I’m writing about it now. Not because Girls Around Me is an evil app that should be pulled from the iOS App Store, or because the company that makes it — Moscow-based i-Free — is filled with villains. I still don’t believe that there’s anything wrong with what this app is doing, and the guys at i-Free are super nice, and certainly don’t mean for this app to be anything beyond a diversion. So, the reason I’m writing about Girls Around Me is because I finally know what to say about it, and what it means in the greater picture.

Girls Around Me isn’t an app you should use to pick up girls, or guys for that matter. This is an app you should download to teach the people you care about that privacy issues are real, that social networks like Facebook and Foursquare expose you and the ones you love, and that if you do not know exactly how much you are sharing, you are as easily preyed upon as if you were naked. I can think of no better way to get a person to realize that they should understand their Facebook privacy settings then pulling out this app.

That’s why I hope you’ll go download Girls Around Me on your iPhone or iPad. It’s free to download. Show it to someone. Give them the same demo I gave to my friends. Then, when they ask how it’s done and how they can prevent an app like Girls Around Me from tracking them, educate them about privacy.

Here’s a good place to start.

Update: In response to this story, Foursquare has killed Girls Around Me’s API access to their data, effectively knocking the app out of commission. For more details and a statement from Foursquare, read here.

Update 2: As of Saturday evening, Girls Around Me has been yanked from the iOS App Store.

Update 3: Girls Around Me developer i-Free has released a full statement on the app, in which they say they’ve done nothing wrong and been made a scapegoat for privacy issues. You can read their response — and ours — here.

Update 4: Think this issue’s dead now that Girls Around Me has been killed? It’s not at all. In fact, it’s very possible Girls Around Me could come back with its core functionality intact.

Update 5: We’ve written a guide on cutting apps like Foursquare and Facebook off from tracking your data. Read it here.

Update 6: Girls Around Me’s developer gave Cult of Mac an interview, in which they said that the app wasn’t for stalking girls without their knowledge, but for avoiding women who are ugly.

  • kioshi

    This is way less creepy than Banjo, which only requires a geotagged tweet, instagram pic, or a 4square/facebook checkin (facebook in the case of friends only of course, unless it’s public) to see people ’round you. And they aren’t aware either. Plus it’s free.

  • D3vouring

    People are not forced to use Facebook and 4square, and by that they don’t mind selling their privacy to companies so why are you surprised by such app ?

  • tesseract

    Do me a favor: re-imagine your example using your own girlfriend instead of a casual acquaintance. Can you still laugh it off and say it’s fair to use this as a cautionary tale about the hidden dangers of Facebook privacy settings? Does ignorance about the intricacies of Social Media ToS somehow make a person more “deserving” of rape or assault?

    As men, we are statistically much less likely to ever be the victim of those kinds of crimes. This unfortunately isn’t true for our wives or girlfriends, our kids, or our friends. Does the fact that we’re not the ones in danger make it ok to laugh it off? If someone you knew and cared about was assaulted, and you found out an app like this facilitated it, would you still take this kind of stance?

    I get that you’re trying, in a roundabout way, to raise awareness- but is it really necessary to encourage people to download this app? I don’t really know a lot about the profit model of this kind of thing- I assume it may be ad-based – but I really can’t see how you encouraging downloads doesn’t help the company, and that seems incredibly irresponsible.

  • Doug

    I think that people who are using these services such as Facebook or Foursquare are aware that information about themselves is exposed, but my guess is that they think that exposure is limited to the confines of those sites/applications. That is, people who are on facebook can see the information I posted to facebook about myself. Same with Foursquare.

    However, what they very likely don’t know about are things called “APIs”, which is just technical mumbo-jumbo to most people. And they don’t understand how these APIs allow for information to be aggregated from multiple sources about multiple individuals into a completely non-related app.

    John, I think you give the developers of this app a little too much moral credit by assuming it’s just a gag and in good fun and that they are “great” guys. At best, they are commodifying women and showing a complete lack of respect for their privacy — it’s an attitude of “hey, they’re around for our entertainment and a good laugh!” It’s pretty gross, frankly. If I wouldn’t want one of these “great” guys knowing about my sister or daughter or female friends — they all deserve better.

  • unknown8bit

    Foursquare doesn’t allow you to check other people in; you’ll want to correct that. Facebook lets you check your friends in and it will show up on their profile if left on default privacy settings.

  • mdzimm

    We might be horrified by what this app does. We might indeed be horrified by how easy it is to find information about us on the web.

    But what makes these things horrifying is the point of view they represent. It’s the reminder that it’s both common and socially acceptable for men to see the world this way: with women in their crosshairs. Software developers will even build tools to make it easier, and we’ll shrug it off because they aren’t treading on Apple’s business interests (phew!). It’s the fact that men will even consider it *funny*!

    The app is scary because of the demand, and the approval, that it represents.

  • kersypants

    Interesting that the revelation that something was seriously wrong with this app when women were literally breaking down instead of sitting smug and amused prompted you to question privacy education first and not knock you dumbstruck at your privilege and ignorance of rape culture and it’s extent.

  • John Brownlee

    Foursquare doesn’t allow you to check other people in; you’ll want to correct that. Facebook lets you check your friends in and it will show up on their profile if left on default privacy settings.

    Thanks, I’ve made the correction. You’re right: I was getting confused with Foursquare.

  • TekLaw

    I am surprised by some of the comments left here. There are likely several more apps similar to Girls Around Me, and more apps will continue to be created and made available to those who are interested. As an in-house attorney at a large semiconductor company I commend you for this article and hope that more readers understand the reason you have written it. It certainly is a great reminder that the law has not caught up with technology and we should all make ourselves aware of our social networking (and other “public” portals) privacy settings, especially with regard to Location Based Services apps.

  • Pillbug

    As men, we are statistically much less likely to ever be the victim of those kinds of crimes. This unfortunately isn’t true for our wives or girlfriends, our kids, or our friends. Does the fact that we’re not the ones in danger make it ok to laugh it off? If someone you knew and cared about was assaulted, and you found out an app like this facilitated it, would you still take this kind of stance?…t I really can’t see how you encouraging downloads doesn’t help the company, and that seems incredibly irresponsible.

    You are the one being irresponsible. This baloney sociological navel-gazing is exactly what gets people in trouble. Knowledge is the answer. Just as you don’t leave your door open at night, people need to learn to control their exposure. Blaming an “app” for sexual assault is insane. Just as wearing skimpy clothing doesn’t cause rape, neither does an application. But my previous point stands. It is only going to get worse, and people needt o learn to control the info they distribute. Creating new laws is asinine.

  • myfreeweb

    i-Free is still around? I remember i-Free selling ringtones and pictures and J2ME games through SMS payments and WAP downloads! I remember how all the kids in Moscow googled free stuff instead and sent to each other via Bluetooth!

    Now, the app is a good demonstration of default privacy settings. I guess the sexism was added to get more popularity. (Which is sad.)

    We need a campaign to promote privacy. I remember how I used Foursquare — no full name, no photo, checking in after leaving. Why aren’t others doing the same?

  • Luiza Prado

    Mr. Brownlee, are you SERIOUS when you say that the creators of the app had no malicious intentions? Seriously? When women are represented in stripper poses on the splash screen? When women are presented as targets, mere objects for a man’s enjoyment?

    The developers of this app ARE RESPONSIBLE for promoting and perpetuating sexism. Sexism is not only for rapists. Sexism is not only for the guy who punches his girlfriend. Seeing women as targets IS sexist. Using an app to pretend you’re someone you’re not in order to get into a girl’s pants IS sexist. And all of these behaviours that objectify women enable things like rape and violence.

  • MsTeeq74

    I agree that the intent wasn’t malicious. As far as how the women appear in sillouette form, that’s not the software developers problem, that’s the world’s problem. We objective beauty of all genders. Just look at the ads we see on bilboards, in stores, etc. Sex sells. The app is appealing to men and if you think that non-rapist men aren’t attracted to sexy sillouettes, I’d like to know where you’ve been if you actually know a man. lol A guy liking how a sexy sillouette looks doesn’t make him a creeper or a bad guy. SMH I agree with the author 100% which is why after being stalked by a random female co-worker (Thank you creeper chick who I used to work with who for some unknown and strange reason FB stalked me), I put a VERY tight restriction on my privacy settings. I am happy to know that when someone pulls up, “Girls Around Me” my profile WON’T be one of the sexy sillouettes shown in their radar. lol I don’t really understand why people DON’T use the privacy settings…make their information more restrictive. Well…then again, I didn’t either until I was stalked by ex-co-worker creepy chick. o_o GREAT article!

  • Monique

    I’m frankly horrified that you played with this app and considered it amusing for 2 months (despite the disapproval of your girlfriend who recognized your interest as “creepy”) and that it took a woman you know starting to cry for you to notice that objectifying women in this way is an upsetting concept. It is not JUST that it is horrifying that these women are so exposed, it is also horrifying to many of us (and I find it very demoralizing that it’s not horrifying to everyone) that such an app would be designed and used, because it shows there is a market for tools to help men who view women as prey hunt them down. Best-case scenario, the users would be dishonest only through lies of omission (since telling a woman you found her using a tool that depicts naked ladies on miitary-inspired radar screens is pretty much guaranteed to send her screaming for help), but there is such an obvious potential for trickery that it’s impossible to think that was not intended by the creators. The suggestion that anyone involved in a product that depicts women as writhing nudes in the crosshairs could be a “nice guy” and simply not have considered the fact that they were objectifying women in a way designed to appeal to sexist and possibly predatory men, is either disingenuous or displays an appalling lack of empathy or compassion for women. I agree with tesseract that it is completely irresponsible to suggest that anyone download this app or support this company in any way! A FAR better suggestion would be that women (and men too, although I suspect they are targeted much less often) reconsider their privacy settings. If you know Zoe and it didn’t occur to you to message her and let her know that her information is set to public, you might want to reconsider whether you are a “nice guy” yourself. Although given your admission that you might have used such an app to prey on women in your single days, perhaps you already know that you’re not.

  • Contrarian

    @mdzimm and others – please leave the sexism against men out of this. I’ll rephrase your point for you:

    “But what makes these things horrifying is the point of view they represent. It’s the reminder that it’s both common and socially acceptable for people to see the world this way: with other people towards whom they express a sexual preference in their crosshairs”

    All the time we remain human, we will have a sexuality that can be exploited by apps like this. The problem is not that we are human; it’s that there is a massive problem with privacy law being framed in an entirely wrong way so that corporations can get away with abusing our privacy.

  • Monique

    Contrarian, this app is clearly marketed at men seeking women. It may allow searches for males, but it’s called “Girls Around Me,” not “People Around Me,” or even “Women Around Me,” which might have been less sexist choices. If you think it’s sexist to notice sexism, you’re missing the point. My beef is not with compassionate, honest men like my husband or brothers-in-law, or with men in general. It’s with the men who download and use this app or others like it.

  • tesseract
    As men, we are statistically much less likely to ever be the victim of those kinds of crimes. This unfortunately isn’t true for our wives or girlfriends, our kids, or our friends. Does the fact that we’re not the ones in danger make it ok to laugh it off? If someone you knew and cared about was assaulted, and you found out an app like this facilitated it, would you still take this kind of stance?…t I really can’t see how you encouraging downloads doesn’t help the company, and that seems incredibly irresponsible.

    You are the one being irresponsible. This baloney sociological navel-gazing is exactly what gets people in trouble. Knowledge is the answer. Just as you don’t leave your door open at night, people need to learn to control their exposure. Blaming an “app” for sexual assault is insane. Just as wearing skimpy clothing doesn’t cause rape, neither does an application. But my previous point stands. It is only going to get worse, and people needt o learn to control the info they distribute. Creating new laws is asinine.

    Pillbug, I fail to see how I’m being irresponsible, but that’s probably because you’re barely coherent.

    “Knowledge is the answer” is a gross oversimplification. I entirely agree that people should learn to better understand the implications of social media, but considering how quickly (and often) those implications are changing, it’s unreasonable to expect every citizen to have an iron grip on the subject. The companies and technologies facilitating the way this information is distributed aren’t exactly transparent, and that’s by design. I’d love to believe that at some point in the future everyone will “get it” and be able to better protect themselves. In the meantime, I absolutely do not believe that ignorance of Facebook’s fine print is a justification for its users being endangered and exploited.

    At no point in my original post did I blame this app for sexual assault, but to deny that it could be used to facilitate it is willfully ignorant. You state (correctly) that wearing skimpy clothing doesn’t cause rape, but equivocating that with the idea that apps like this can’t facilitate it is a false analogy. To clarify: claiming that wearing skimpy clothing DOES cause rape is blaming the victim (which is wrong). Claiming that an app which allows predatory individuals to to stalk women without their knowledge is holding the aggressor responsible (which is correct).

    As for “baloney sociological navel-gazing”, I can’t even begin to unravel what you mean. I’m offering statistical facts, and talking about the way that those realities affect our outlook. If you want to talk about navel-gazing, consider your own lack of perspective. If you want to talk about baloney, consider your own inability to craft an argument.

  • metro72

    So, the whole point of Foursquare is to let other people know where you’re at and people get a kick out of that for whatever reason. So, to be amazed/astonished/ashamed of people being able to see where you are at when you specifically went out and installed an app to let people do that is pretty much your bad.

    On the Facebook side, yes, I do believe many people have no idea what they post is visible to others. But if you don’t know, think twice before you randomly put it out there on the web. Hopefully articles such as this will at least get people to look into the security of what they are sharing. If nothing else, create a separate account that you can use to test against your real account to see what is displayed or is searchable by all.

    As far as this app is concerned, it’s functionality is not too different from many others – read, the Color app – that seek to combine the social media data in an aggregate form that they believe is real intention of having social media tools in the first place. The problem is, they do go about presenting some of it in a rather grotesque fashion – i.e. the pole dance images – that is pretty inappropriate right there, and one of the many reasons a man would find himself in a divorce situation if his wife found an app like this on his phone. By the way, if you search for guys does it put up images of male dancers?

    Anyway, in the author’s defense of every woman who is mad that he said he would have loved to have an app like this when he was younger. I assure you that the boys today are trying their darndest to find a girl to show them the time of day as hard as they can. If not for apps like this, they would be looking elsewhere, i.e. traversing lists of people they don’t know who “like” things in FB, just to see if they have a nice profile picture and an open account that let’s them see more. If they decided to link Foursquare to that account even better for them I guess. 10 years ago the same boys would be trying to find out as much about a girl as they could via other means, watching what clubs they frequent, what time they usually go to the gym, when are their classes so they might run into each other, talking to her friends etc. The only difference with this app is that it lets APIs do the hard work for them, incidentally masking their possibly shady identity at the same time.

    Had the developers not made the app so degrading to women in depicting the pole dancers, there would probably be a lot more users, because many women may not have paid attention to it and seen it as just another social networking app – despite the also guilty name of the app I suppose (they put red flags up all over the place). Had they called it PeepsNearMe and stripped the gratuitus icons they probably could have made a fortune with a much larger userbase and people wouldn’t have gotten nearly as offended. Oh wait, but then it would be almost the same thing as Foursquare…

  • Michael Bauser

    I’m not sure your technical description of how the app gets women’s location is correct. I don’t see where the Facebook API lets you search pubic posts by location — I just tried it and got a “The location_post table does not support search” error. Also, Foursquare doesn’t push latitude/longitude to Facebook yet, which means Girls Around Me would be depending on women to check in on Foursquare AND Facebook in order to search Facebook for nearby people. That can’t possibly work!

    Furthermore, if the app was only searching Facebook, it wouldn’t NEED to make you join Foursquare, as its website says. Best I can figure is that they’re using a really crazy search loop where they search Foursquare (and/or Facebook) for popular places near you, then look up those places one by one on Foursquare (which, unlike Facebook, has an easy-to-access “Who’s here now” list for every location).

    I can’t play with the app, because it doesn’t have an Android version yet. Somebody check: Does it EVER find women who don’t have Facebook profiles? If so, that’s a sign it’s not using Facebook as the primary locator method.

  • Joe Thompson

    This is not a problem of new data, but of new access to and combination of existing data, and it’s popping up a lot. For example our county clerk started to put all county records online. Sounds great, right? You can now instantly see, for example, the transfer history of a property you want to buy. Except a lot of old mortgage and deed records had SSNs written on them. Oops.

    The problem was not that the documents were put online, it was that SSNs were ever put on a public document in the first place. (Which was admittedly back in the kinder, gentler days before your SSN was the key to *all* your confidential medical, financial and legal data.) A similar example — the county tax office has had tax record searches online for years. So with a name, or even in some cases a partial name, and a little bit of location info (say, knowing what general neighborhood they live in), you can find out somebody’s address and entire tax history (which can give an approximate read on their finances) — it’s a stalker’s dream, and not much to be done about it because any schmoe can go down to the tax office and browse the records by law.

    Note that in both cases, the current state of the online version of those records is (now) more secure than the paper versions — like I said up top, it’s not easy online access that’s the issue, it’s the content access is given to that needs a good scrubbing.

  • rwfsmith

    This app doesn’t do anything that you couldn’t have done with with the slightly more effort of checking Foursquare and Facebook separately. I think this may be an important step in getting people educated on their internet privacy – especially those who are not very well versed in how the internet and social networking sites function.

    I could see why he didn’t think much of it for a couple months, I probably wouldn’t have either. The first thing I, and many other technically capable people, do when they sign up for an account on a web page is actually read the EULA then configure privacy settings. This is something that EVERYBODY should be doing.

  • Pillbug

    As for “baloney sociological navel-gazing”, I can’t even begin to unravel what you mean. I’m offering statistical facts, and talking about the way that those realities affect our outlook. If you want to talk about navel-gazing, consider your own lack of perspective. If you want to talk about baloney, consider your own inability to craft an argument.

    Yes, well, your “argument” was to get on the interwebs and play the scold by castigating an e-mag writer for writing about the field in which he works, and providing valuable information to those who would be seemingly affected. To accuse someone of being irresponsible for providing this information doesn’t make much sense, nor is there any reason to suppose that someone downloading this app or any other app akin to this due to reading here is more (or less) likely to commit a sexual assault. The technology is there; it could be this app or any other. I don’t buy that sexual assaults are likely to occur because of this anyway.

    “I was on and off the fence about stalking and assaulting one of the folks in my neighborhood, but ‘Girls Around Me’ really gave me the push I needed.”

    No – your thought is based on emotion, and the seeming creepiness of the application, but frankly Facebook is one big (pseudo) stalkers paradise. There simply is no evidence, outside of one’s own thoughts, that this application is likely to result in an increase in sexual or other kinds of assaults.

    (As a side note, I would be more concerned about robberies stemming from a gender neutral rendition, as relative wealth and jewelry can be spoted, but frankly, does that really make casing a place any easier? no.)

  • artlung

    The context is the part of that that’s creepy. Stripper Matrix splash screen really sells it as “stalking / hook-up” tool. http://www.sonar.me/ does some of what you have there, but does it in a way that’s more interest based, and links you to people based on number of social network connections / twitter follows you share. It does a pretty good job of that but as far as I know only uses explicit check ins by the user to find people.

  • Jason Brian Chapa

    IT’S DISGUSTING…that this isn’t available for Android.

  • GirlontheHill

    Thanks to John Brownlee (yay!) Foursquare bans Girls Around me for API violation. Ha!
    http://tnw.co/H4HH6C

  • Pillbug

    Note that in both cases, the current state of the online version of those records is (now) more secure than the paper versions — like I said up top, it’s not easy online access that’s the issue, it’s the content access is given to that needs a good scrubbing.

    Sure, this is the old case where it has been proven again and again that given a set of data and auxilliary data an individual can be readily identified.

    However, in this case, the individuals are readily linking the data sets together, and this is not a case of probabilistic record matching.

    If anything, apps like this are doing the public a massive favour by taking off their blinders about what they do in the public sphere… and that public sphere is online, sometimes.

  • Liz Rizzo

    Shorter this article: Public information is public.

  • Steve_Lockstep

    Shorter this article: Public information is public.

    Short. And wrong. See http://lockstep.com.au/blog/2011/01/26/public-yet-still-private.html

    Do you know that some jurisdictions have the offence of “theft by finding”? If I find a bag full of money in the street, I am not in fact free to pick it up and keep it. Finders are not keepers. Counter intuitive for some, but that’s the law.

    Equally, you might intuit that personal information in the public domain is no longer private. And you’d be wrong on that.

  • Steve_Lockstep

    Lots of people take a defeatist position based on the idea that “the data is out there”. Some say “it’s too late; privacy is dead”. Others withdraw, trying to hide behind Tor and the like, going to extraordinary lengths to hide their tracks to thwart the information raiders.

    There’s a middle way. Look at OECD style privacy principles. The foundation of OECD data protection is three fold: (1) Don’t collect Personal Information that you don’t need, (2) Be open with individuals about what PI you have and why, and (3) Once collected, refrain from using PI for unrelated secondary purposes.

    That last one, the Use Limitation Principle, creates an extra layer of protection around data that “is already out there” or which is in the public domain (importantly, many Information Privacy Laws don’t turn on the terms “public” and “private”). Even if people have used Foursquare without thinking through where their exuberance might lead, Use Limitation says it’s not OK for Girls Around Me to mine that data and use it without control. The Use Limitation Principle also says that snapshots acquired by Facebook cannot be mined without consent using facial recognition to work out new data linkages. And that Google cannot hoover up unencrypted wifi transmissions just because they’re in the “public domain”.

    The fact that huge amounts of data about me is out there does not nullify my rights to privacy, even if I put it out there myself. So we should not be defeatist about big data. I don’t want to live my life online anonymously; I do want to socialise online. I want limits on what third parties can do with the knowledge they have about me. That’s real privacy. It’s about control and respect, not secrecy and anonymity. We can have Foursquare and still put the brakes on insanity like Girls Around Me.

    http://lockstep.com.au/blog/privacy.html

  • tesseract

    Yes, well, your “argument” was to get on the interwebs and play the scold by castigating an e-mag writer for writing about the field in which he works, and providing valuable information to those who would be seemingly affected.

    Actually, the thing I took issue with was the fact that he encouraged his readers to download the app, which is abundantly clear from my post. I admitted to not knowing the details of how an app like this generates profit, but even without knowing that it’s easy to understand that increasing the circulation of the app has to somehow benefit the producers. Were he really trying to help “those who would be seemingly affected”, he wouldn’t have encouraged people to do something that would increase the distribution of this app. I don’t think it was intentional on his part, and I think his aim was good – just not thought through.

    To accuse someone of being irresponsible for providing this information doesn’t make much sense, nor is there any reason to suppose that someone downloading this app or any other app akin to this due to reading here is more (or less) likely to commit a sexual assault.

    Nice strawman fallacy. I never insinuated that this app would make someone more likely to commit a sexual assault. What I said is that the app *facilitates* sexual assault, as in “makes it easier for someone who already has the intent”. Is that a good thing, in your eyes? Is there some ethical or respectful use for this program that I’m missing?

    No – your thought is based on emotion, and the seeming creepiness of the application

    Seeming? Seriously?

    There simply is no evidence, outside of one’s own thoughts, that this application is likely to result in an increase in sexual or other kinds of assaults.

    There’s a big difference between a site that has the potential to be used in a certain way, and an app that is clearly designed specifically for that kind of use. As for “evidence”, you’re trying to say two things at once, and failing at both, so let me help you. As for causing an increase in assaults as in the “drives mild-mannered men to become racists” sense that you conjured above, it is exactly that: made-up hyperbole. In terms of whether an application specifically designed to make it easier for a stranger to follow a woman without her consent or knowledge could lead to that increase: I won’t say I have evidence onhand, because I don’t. But it doesn’t feel like much of a stretch.

    (As a side note, I would be more concerned about robberies stemming from a gender neutral rendition, as relative wealth and jewelry can be spoted, but frankly, does that really make casing a place any easier? no.)

    Welcome to gender privilege. The fact that you, (I assume) a male, are more concerned about being robbed than you are being raped, is exactly the point.

  • IndigoSwash

    Re: “Update: In response to this story, Foursquare has killed Girls Around Me’s API access to their data, effectively knocking the app out of commission. For more details and a statement from Foursquare, read here.” — Both links in this update just redirect back to this same post.

  • Pillbug

    Welcome to gender privilege. The fact that you, (I assume) a male, are more concerned about being robbed than you are being raped, is exactly the point.

    Ah… one of the privilege people, who sit around with their associates accusing various people of various forms of privilege online ad infinitum … impossible to deal with, as when logic runs out, there is always that to throw out which is what it always comes down to in the end.

    A) I am male, B) I have been assaulted, but will leave details way to the side C) The presumption would be that the overwhelming preponderance of sexual assault occurs in one’s home whereas robbery for jewelry and money is overwhelmingly a public affair if we are talking about assault that involves the physical presence of victim. Women are also more likely to be held up at gun point or mugged, so your claim of privilege is a red herring.

    My point, abundantly clear was that the article was responsible by encouraging people to gain knowledge regarding the devices and applications they use, and that discouraging that is counterintuitive. Frankly, the people who most should be downloading this or other parallel apps are “those who would be seemingly affected.” The last thing the author was, was irresponsible.

  • Jim Hyslop

    (I hope this isn’t a duplicate post, my apologies if it appears twice)

    It’s find for Foursquare to ban GAM, but what about the next app that comes along? Banning individual apps doesn’t solve the underlying problem.

  • Jim Hyslop

    Actually, the thing I took issue with was the fact that he encouraged his readers to download the app, which is abundantly clear from my post.

    Given the tone of the article, I interpreted that to mean that he was encouraging us to do the same as he did: demonstrate to your friends what the problem is, and make sure they check their privacy settings.

  • mainemacuser

    Please enlighten me. What is an “opossum parlor”?

  • web2point0guy

    An application platform syngergizing location APIs, dating and social media? This guy needs to find some venture capitalist funding!

  • Goo Toor

    Hmm…could have been a successful app if it was called FRIENDS around me ;)

  • aks25

    John, I’ve been on the receiving end of being stalked online, and I can assure you that had you chatted up Zoe in real life, it would probably have been obvious to her that you didn’t know her, and she’d likely have enough social acuity to pick up on someone posing as a long-lost friend.

    I once had a job interviewer try to strike up some small talk when we met in her office for the first time, after being sutted out for a half hour by other HR staff people. “I heard you’re into blah, blah, and blah”, pretending to have learned it from another of the human-resources staffers I talked with earlier. “No,” I explained to her, “I’m not into any of that stuff, but the guy across town with the same full name as me that you found when you Google-stalked me before the interview does like all those things”.

    The look of horror on her face was priceless.

    I walked out on her immediately, about 20 seconds into the interview.

    The real shame with this app is that it could have been tremendously useful, and its basic functionality wouldn’t seem so creepy to many of us had it not been wrapped in scantily-clad, laser-targeted imagery.

  • aks25

    Oh, also I wonder how many ppl creeped out by Girls Around Me don’t think twice about using those grocery-store “savings club” discount cards, which I know about from working behind the scenes. You don’t want to know how all the info they’re collecting on you is being aggregated and sifted through – say, your smoking habit (you buy two packs a week), your ethnicity (passover food = you’re Jewish), how old your kids are (you bought a birthday card for a 4-year-old daughter), that you’re trying for another kid (you bought an ovulation predictor kit) or not (you bought condoms) or maybe you’re having trouble in that department (your wife has a prescription for Clomid, and you for Viagra), etc., etc.

    Grocery store discount cards way creepier than Girls Around Me IMO.

  • phineas

    The app features an image of strippers, and refers to “girls” around the user, and you’ve admitted it’s a way for men using it to “pull some action”.

    It absolutely should be pulled, it’s horribly sexist.

    The fact that people are comparing shopping apps to apps allowing someone to stalk women shows how serious this problem is (as if women are no different from things to be bought). Wake up, women. Start noticing these things (the way men think of us) and start doing something about it. This is not fun and games.

  • TallDave

    My God! Men hitting on women! What has the world come to?

    If men are allowed to see women as sexual “targets” no attractive woman will ever be safe from being showered with attention, gifts, money, and favors by interested men! Do we really want to live in a world where an unsuspecting woman might have doors opened, flat tires changed, or chairs pulled out for her — just because she’s a woman?

    If this is allowed to go on, some unscrupulous women might even sell their pictures, show their bodies for money, or even acquire wealth through sexual favors!

    In summary, men should be chemically castrated, and the Internet should be illegal because it makes me feel unsafe.

  • Michael Bauser

    http://www.sonar.me/ does some of what you have there, but does it in a way that’s more interest based, and links you to people based on number of social network connections / twitter follows you share. It does a pretty good job of that but as far as I know only uses explicit check ins by the user to find people.

    I feel like you got this EXACTLY backwards. Girls Around Me “only uses explicit check ins,” in that it only locates women who use Foursquare. The newest version of Sonar (much like Banjo) uses Twitter’s “search nearby” API to find geotagged tweets. Many of those will be Foursquare checkins, but not all of them. Sonar is the one the finding people who haven’t explicitly “checked in” to a location, not Girls Around Me.

    Whether or not the app is finding explicit check-ins is not Girls Around Me’s real problem. The real problem is that it treats women as a sexual commodity, and that upsets people.

    (Right now, judging by Twitter, Banjo is getting some Girls Around Me comparisons, but nobody has dissed Sonar yet.)

  • fLaMePr0oF

    I completely and totally agree on the privacy issues here, but I have to say I’m almost as worried by the casual advocation of restriction and censoring of such media – as it happens the app was closed down because the developer in question had breached a minor clause of the terms governing Foursquare’s public API’s but what the author said is basically still true; they hadn’t done anything wrong or inappropriate by using public APIs to put an app like this out.

    If every time some negative use or means of abusing new media comes to light our reaction is to immediately demand the ‘offending’ products/platforms (which are often people’s livelihoods) be taken down, rather than looking at the root causes of potential issues and trying to improve / fix privacy policies and educate users, we impoverish our world and ourselves with clumsy and unnecessary barriers restrictions and controls.

    It’s interesting that this article appeared in The Cult of Mac as Apple, and the way it runs it’s business partnerships and media platforms such as iTunes and App Store often exemplify this flawed dictatorial ‘walled garden’ approach.

    There are a lot of people in our society today, however, who very much want to see these sort of ‘solutions’ to perceived ‘problems’ and so we have ‘nanny state’ interference, reduced liberties and excessive surveillance & control which ultimately leads to the degradation of privacy and basic freedoms rather than their protection and enhancement.

  • matt45

    Thanks for this post. One way also to fight the perspective this app perpetuates (in images as well as in words) is to stop calling adult women “girls,” as in the following quote (and in the name of the app itself):

    “Moreover, the girls (and men!) shown in Girls Around Me all had the power to opt out of this information being visible to strangers”

    “Girls” and “men” obviously aren’t parallel terms. “Women Around Me” would at least potentially level the playing field in the prowler’s mind.

  • pinky38

    Thanks for writing this article. And for potentially saving lots of innocent folks from squirrelly (or worse) acts. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
    ? Margaret Mead

  • kaysindre

    Can’t find it in app store.(europe), buy banjo works great! Also learn to manage privacy settings people.

  • dc112

    Wow… that’s scary. I’m glad I don’t have kids/daughters.

  • jefreybulla

    Now that Girls Around Me got banned this can be useful: Girls Around Me alternatives http://jefreybulla.tumblr.com/

  • bobbyV_89

    this type of privacy issue is exactly why Muslim Americans are fighting against the spying by the NYPD.

  • JKingis

    So, you kill the messanger? Well done.

  • FAVisceglia

    This just emphasizes that we need to take control of our own privacy. The world is not a good place, and social networking is not a good thing. But neither the world nor social networking is going away. The true developers behind “Girls Around Me” are each of us. We need to shut it down, before something terrible happens.

    http://www.rwxrwxr-x.com/2012/04/youre-being-stalked.html

  • dekard

    Thanks for the article pal! It wasn’t broke so why fix it? But Nooooooo you got to WRITE about it!

    Well you got my nomination for dickhead of the year!

    THANKS A LOT!

  • Emma Wehling

    What I think is sad is that there is apparently a significant number of people that would fall for someone pretending to know them. I know who I know and someone pretending to know a family member or go to my school wouldn’t make him any more likely to get in my pants. Id still think he was a creep…just sayin…

  • jazzyalex

    Creepy app — what a bullshit. What was creepy there, if you can open Foursquare, go to any nearby venue (e.g. night club), see checked in women (men) and browse through their Facebook timelines, if the link is present in their 4Square profile? If you decide to check in in 4Square AND have a link to your FB profile you are willingly let other people to see your photos/posts/whatever public FB info.

  • EmmaGeraln

    This app is a step too far, it aggregates informations and glamorises and gamifys creepy stalking. I’m disappointed (but not surprised) that Apple let this into the app store in the first place.

  • Mr_James

    Technical determinism / technical neutrality. Don’t doom the developer for coding a powerful tool, as you can use the app in the way the programmer intend it or you can misuse it. It’s in theory the same wit a baseball bat: hit a ball or break someones neck.
    If the app was allowed by the strict rules of Apple in the first place, the app should be considered legal.

    When joining a social network every user should try to emphasize the importance of privacy options and not sharing every single moment of their life on Facebook. It’s dangerous – and it’s not the fault of this app. You don’t need this app to stalk a girl. You just need accounts on FS and FB to find out who’s around and the information about them. The app was just a tool which made these things easier. Think about it before sharing underwear photos and tagging you in a club on Saturday night.

    Best regards.

  • Zippity8

    John, thanks for alerting us to the kinds of things that are out there. As for those that have a problem with the app’s demise, ask yourself how you’d feel if your mother/sister/wife/daughter was stalked and hurt because of this app or one like it.

  • BPMarkus

    John. There is something wrong with you if you “still don’t think there’s anything wrong” with what the good ole boys at i-Free are doing after seeing the terrified reaction of your female friends. I’m glad you think the men who created this app are “super nice” but I hope you understand they have created something that makes it quick and easy to stalk women like game. There is something further wrong with you that you decided to sit on the information instead of letting people know as soon as you knew, because this is in fact a safety issue. You write from the chauvinist perspective of a man who has never experienced the bone-chilling fear of being stalked, or has never had to worry about the thousands of thousands of women who go missing in this country, only to be found dead, or never found at all.

  • Adrian May

    Just one factor you’re missing: Zoe wants somebody to go hit on her. Otherwise, she wouldn’t be sharing her location; in fact, she probably wouldn’t be in the bar at all. And what’s wrong with that? People have to meet each other somehow. What was so great about yelling in the ear of a complete stranger in a sweaty night club like we had to before this stuff was invented? Maybe she’d rather be approached by somebody who’s already been warned about what she’d look like in a bikini and might have picked her out because he has similar interests. Perhaps you’re more likely to approach her if you can ask her about Rome instead of grappling for cliche chat up lines.

    Adrian.

  • Adrian May

    I bet I’m a lot older than you, but even I can see that young people don’t see this as some kind of Big Brother machine peeping on their privacy; they’re using it quite deliberately to advertise themselves and communicate, and they are not terrified by the idea of other people knowing where they go on holiday. Do you feel intruded upon by me reading your blog? Of course not – you work night and day to promote it. I don’t mind people reading this post, but I sure as hell objected when I signed into this blogging engine using my facebook ID and it even asked for permission to make facebook posts in my name. Now that’s creepy!

  • fermata18

    I refuse to accept that people can’t take responsibility for protecting their own privacy on their profiles, just because they aren’t “tech-savvy.” This is not about reading the fine print of Facebook or Foursquare’s privacy policies and knowing the voodoo magic it apparently takes to protect oneself from stalkers. This is about common sense, and users of these sites – both men and women – ought to have more of it.

  • Woody Brown

    You said nothing about the real problem. That is: the ‘opt-out’ paradigm employed by businesses on their customers. No service, feature or functionality ought be opt-out, everything needs be default set to ‘opt-in’.

    This way, only opting-in do customers both knowingly and voluntarially submit themselves to what-ever the things is. No auto-renewals based on opt-out paradigms, no public defaults, no assumption that the customer wants or needs your product, service, feature or function. It is an immoral way to make money unless consumers expressly opt-out (on time) to avoid being defaulted into giving-over any-freaking-thing to anybody, any organization or any program.

    Opt-in is the only ethical business standard.

  • Andrew Brough

    good article, way too long though. you could have said all of that with less words.

    remember: less is more. that was kinda painful to read……

  • floating

    A lot of people are agreeing that this is not the fault of the app because sites like facebook already have this information and you can already see it — tell me, exactly HOW easy is it to find out where people are in physical proximity to you and bring that up on facebook? This app most distinctly enables you to track a person and lists people in a way that facebook does NOT in any way that I have ever seen. I do not know much about foursquare, but telling friends where you currently are with other friends, and allowing people who know enough about you to look you up by name or association and then see your profile is VERY different from what this Girls Around Me app is doing (though reading other posts I can see that maybe FS does allow you to track random people like this).

    Sure, it might have just been a funny novelty that the “nice guys” making it didn’t think much about, but the actual PURPOSE of it is to look up “Girls Around Me” (or guys). It really should be opt-in. I can see how that could be a fun or useful social mechanism that I could see people WANTING to participate in, but it doesn’t really change that 1) it is also an enabler, 2) that a lot of young people leave their information public because they don’t know about the existence of such apps, and 3) that one in four college-age women have been sexually assaulted. Is that the app’s fault? No, not at all, but it does enable creeps, and I’m not sure why anyone is defending that the app does not….

  • Megan Swaine

    It’s not like that stuff couldn’t be done WITHOUT the app. Say I’m at a Jack Astor’s in Toronto across from the Scotiabank theater and I go on Twitter and search “Jack Astor’s Toronto”. It immediately gives me two tweeted Foursquare check-ins, both made in the past two hours. One of which is a girl, who is at the same restaurant as me. Her photo is in her Twitter profile. Her bio outs her as some kind of blogger, meaning I could probably find more about her on the Internet if I tried.

    Get what I’m saying? (and I’m a girl btw) It’s not about the app. It’s about the information the app is using- information which is deliberately put out there by people who obviously aren’t considering the consequences.

    I mean, Foursquare is expressly designed to share your location…publicly. That’s what it’s for. It’s not like there’s anything deceptive about what it does.

  • macewan

    @CultOfMac The “apptap” widget on this page is advertising “Girls Around Me” as an App to download.

  • Livia Song

    @Adrian May
    you are the exact definition of a douchebag. it should not matter what the girl is wearing or if she’s “asking for it”, you do not rape her, period. It’s not a matter of teaching girls not to get raped, it’s a matter of teaching men not to rape. You’re the perfect example of someone who slut shames and victim blames. You are saying that all of the girls that have neglected to change their privacy settings are asking for it and need to be taught a lesson. Why do they need to change their privacy settings in the first place? Precisely to avoid people like you. You’re disgusting

  • Hodge

    Pretty damn telling that the name of the app is GIRLS Around Me, when it can also be used to find men. If it had been marketed as “People Around Me” it would have been a flop.

  • Fabien

    @Livia Song: Unless I missed this post, Adrian May didn’t talk about rape, he was obviously talking about dating. He never said these girls needed to be taught a lesson, he said they probably know what they are doing when they check in into 4Square. Even if I disagree with him on that, I think your post is out of line.

  • Shagbark

    What I find strange is how horrified all the women in the story are at the idea that the men around them might have some information about who they are and what they’re like. If there was an app I could use to give out information to women around me about who I am and what I’m like, I’d be all over it. Does “creepy” mean “anything that threatens women’s monopoly on sexual information and power”?

  • Maki

    @Shagbark It IS implicitly a bad thing for men to have information about who women are and what they’re like, if it is WITHOUT THEIR CONSENT. If a guy wants to get to know a girl, he should have the decency to ask. The whole point of this article is that most people do not understand their privacy settings, and how their ignorance facilitates people obtaining information on them without their even being aware of it.

    You may very well want to give out your personal information to everyone upon entering an establishment, but you should also respect the rights of others to maintain a certain level of privacy. As has been said in comments below, it all boils down to the difference between opt-in and opt-out business models. Having to opt-out of having one’s information unknowingly given to strangers is “creepy.” It has nothing to do with either sex having a “monopoly on sexual information and power.” Whatever that even means.

  • sabrina D

    Strange thing !!!

  • synyx

    I still don’t understand quite what is different about this vs. Assisted Serendipity – which also uses the Foursquare API to accomplish much the same effect.

  • LAVINIAMONROE

    my ḃudḋy’s ėx-ŵifė mákės $63 áń hour oń thė computeŕ. She hás beeń ŵithout á Job for 10 months but lást month her Ĉheck ŵas $21930 Just working on the cõmputeŕ fõŕ a few hõųŕs. read moŕe herè..MakeCash2.Com

  • Maki

    @synyx I haven’t used the app so I can’t be sure, but looking at the dev website, Assisted Serendipity appears to show only the ratio of male to female patrons at a given establishment, rather than giving their actual identities or linking to their Facebook profiles. Please let me know if I’m misinformed.

  • undrgrndgirl

    as a victim of stalking for the last 25 years. yes 25 years. i find this completely horrifying. and reinforces my decision to NEVER, EVER have a personal facebook page and why i keep my smart phone unconnected unless i have a reason for it to be connected to gps/internet or anything else! sigh.
    glad my exhusband never had access to this 22 years ago, i’d be a dead woman.

  • David Neesley

    @undrgrndgirl You’re a Victim cause you want to be not because you are. Put the blame everywhere else but where it belongs. Go join the convent.

  • David Neesley

    If women “FART” they have to post it on face book. They put so much information out there on themselves and everyone else you can’t help but know everything about them. The solution is this, SHUT UP, GET OFF THE FREAKIN PHONE, SHUT OFF THE COMPUTER, AND QUIT TEXTING. If you want to talk about your “REALATIONSHIPS” go see the people in person.

  • Hank Warren

    Endless surveillance (with gov’t involvement), yet another violation of our rights. The gov’t constantly violates our rights.

    They violate the 1st Amendment by caging protesters and banning books like “America Deceived II”.

    They violate the 4th and 5th Amendment by allowing TSA to grope you.

    They violate the entire Constitution by starting undeclared wars.

    Impeach Obama, support Ron Paul.

    Last link of “America Deceived II” before it is completely banned:

    http://www.amazon.com/America-Deceived-II-Possession-interrogation/dp/1450257437

  • Hank Warren

    Endless surveillance (with gov’t involvement), yet another violation of our rights. The gov’t constantly violates our rights.

    They violate the 1st Amendment by caging protesters and banning books like “America Deceived II”.

    They violate the 4th and 5th Amendment by allowing TSA to grope you.

    They violate the entire Constitution by starting undeclared wars.

    Impeach Obama, support Ron Paul.

    Last link of “America Deceived II” before it is completely banned:

    http://www.amazon.com/America-Deceived-II-Possession-interrogation/dp/1450257437

  • bclydebatty

    @David Neesley: Wow…misogynist much? Why don’t YOU join the convent and spare us your asinine comments.

  • sony

    I doubt that Girls Around Me is the only app which allows such privacy violation, and if it was, soon there will be lots of similar apps. The root of the question is really the privacy settins on the social networking. Thank’s for writing!

  • olgrego

    Way to talk yourself up at the end of the article John Brownlee. “”intelligent and sophisticated” i’m sure. Would an intelligent and sophisticated person even bother with this app, let alone apple products at all. No. Tech bloggers are idiots if they seriously think that people understand the privacy options they have and can use. That’s exactly how facebook makes a killing. I hate mac and I won’t visit this site again. Goodbye

  • Lance Llewellyn

    I see the app as a guy’s best defense, not a weapon. If I’d had this app when I was younger my love life would have been vastly improved – because I’d have known which girls were PSYCHO…

  • AdonisBlood33

    This article was just underlining the importance of protecting online privacy. It was not blaming these women at all. It was just simply saying that people should be aware that apps like these can take public information on foursquare and Facebook and broadcast to anyone… Including creepers.

    You are either trolling. Or you didn’t read the article. Or you didn’t comprehend it. It was not blaming these women or saying they should be punished. Rather it was saying that online privacy should be protected more.

    There are creepers and deviants out there that will prey on people and we need to learn how defend ourselves. You’re getting mad at a person for advocating the use of a rape whistle. Or a better analogy would be telling a kid. You know you probably shouldn’t wear your name on your shirt and you shouldn’t talk to strangers (I was told that as a kid in like every grade in elementary school). It’s not blaming the child. It’s simply a good tip to protect against creepers (who deserve all of the blame).

    I definitely think we should have programs that prevent rapists from becoming rapists. But there are still rapists out there and we need to learn to protect ourselves. And getting mad at people trying to give a heads up about information that could possibly be used to stalk people is counter productive.

    Again to reiterate just to make sure you understand. It’s about protecting people. Not blaming them for the actions of deviants.

  • Haley Gossett

    @David Neesley…stfu! Ur a guy so u don’t get it! So go suck one!

  • Selena Marie

    Constantly fascinating to
    adhere to a genuine website. Appreciate the actual publish. If you want to get
    a dating online, join the facebook’s new dating site MingleArena.com   Additionally, the appearance of your blog is
    superb. Nice job 

  • Selena Marie

    Constantly fascinating to
    adhere to a genuine website. Appreciate the actual publish. If you want to get
    a dating online, join the facebook’s new dating site MingleArena.com   Additionally, the appearance of your blog is
    superb. Nice job 

  • Nidhi Rao

About the author

John BrownleeJohn Brownlee is a Contributing Editor. He has also written for Wired, Playboy, Boing Boing, Popular Mechanics, VentureBeat, and Gizmodo. He lives in Boston with his wife and two parakeets. You can follow him here on Twitter.

(sorry, you need Javascript to see this e-mail address)| Read more posts by .

Posted in News, Top stories | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , |