Girls Around Me Dev: We Didn’t Do Anything Wrong [Statement]

Girls Around Me Dev: We Didn’t Do Anything Wrong [Statement]

Girls Around Me dev i-Free says the app isn't meant to allow creeps to stalk girls. That's not what the app's website says.

When the creepy girl stalking app Girls Around Me went missing from the iTunes App Store last night, it wasn’t immediately clear who had pulled it: Russia-based i-Free, the developer behind the app, or Apple itself.

Now i-Free has clarified matters. They pulled the app themselves… but not because they think they did anything wrong. In fact, they’ve gone as far as to say that it is “unethical to pick a scapegoat to talk about the privacy concerns. We see this wave of negative as a serious misunderstanding of the app’s goals, purpose, abilities and restrictions.”

Oh really?

In my original report, I was extremely cautious about vilifying i-Free an Girls Around Me. In fact, I stated very clearly that Girls Around Me wasn’t the problem in itself: it was the fact that Foursquare and Facebook allow people to be this exposed without their explicit knowledge.

Even so, though, it’s hard to get on board a response that says the app’s “goals [and] purpose” had been misinterpreted. In fact, i-Free’s response here is patently absurd. From the official website:

In the mood for love, or just after a one-night stand? Girls Around Me puts you in control! Reveal the hottest nightspots, who’s in them, and how to reach them…

Browse photos of lovely local ladies and tap their thumbnail to find out more about them.

We never said Girls Around Me did anything different from what i-Free is freely admitting here in their own marketing pitch. Girls Around Me lets you identify women, find out where they are, look at pictures of them and then research their personal lives, all in pursuit of a “one-night stand.”

In other words, the app itself is marketed clearly at making women easier targets for ballers and pick-up artists. That stalkers and serial rapists could also use it (but that i-Free doesn’t want necessarily them to) doesn’t make the app’s explicitly stated “goals [and] purpose” any less abhorrent.

i-Free also says:

Girls Around Me does not allow anonymous usage of the app. It is impossible to search for a particular person in this app, or track his|her location. The app just allows the user to browse the venues nearby, as if you passed by and looked in the window.

I’m sorry, what? True, Girls Around Me doesn’t allow you to use the app anonymously — you must log in with a Foursquare account when you load up the app — but the girls some perv might be stalking with the app don’t have access to that information, or even know they’re being watched. That makes it effectively anonymous. As for there being no difference between Girls Around Me and passing by a club and looking in the window, gimme a break. I can’t literally discover everything about a girl — from where she went to elementary school to what she looks like in a bikini thong — by glancing in a club venue. With Girls Around Me, I can.

i-Free’s other points are better. They say that all Girls Around Me did was mash-up publicly available Facebook and Foursquare data and display it on a map. All people seen in Girls Around Me can opt out of being seen in the app in their Foursquare and Facebook settings. It’s just this message that caused us to write about Girls Around Me to begin with as a wake-up call about privacy.

As for why the app had been pulled, i-Free says that Apple had nothing to do with it. Instead, Girls Around Me was pulled because Foursquare revoking API access to the app had effectively broken it. They noted that the app had been downloaded over 70,000 times, and that they were currently working hard to restore functionality to the app for existing customers.

Here’s i-Free’s full statement, as given to the Wall Street Journal (but not to Cult of Mac, who expressly reached out to i-Free for comment in response to our piece):

Girls Around Me app was designed to make geo-social exploration of popular venues easy and visual.

We follow the geo-social trend for mobile devices that is supported by numerous location sharing services, networks and apps. Many other mobile apps provide the same or more extended functionality using location data provided by APIs of major social networks, i.e. Ban.jo or Sonar.

Girls Around Me does not allow anonymous usage of the app. It is impossible to search for a particular person in this app, or track his|her location. The app just allows the user to browse the venues nearby, as if you passed by and looked in the window. The Girls Around Me user has to be registered in Foursquare and must be logged in this service to be able to see anything in Girls Around Me. The app Girls Around Me does not have access to user login and password, authentication is carried out on the social network side. Girls Around Me shows to the user only the data that is available to him or her through his or her accounts in Foursquare, and gives the user nothing more than Foursquare app can provide itself (when you browse venues around you in Foursquare, you can see how many people checked in there and you can see their profiles and photos, even contacts and social networks profile). The aim of the app is to make the usage of this data more convenient and more focused on finding popular and crowded venues.

Girls Around Me has no ability to change, limit or expand information that is available to the user through his or her account in social network. Girls Around Me does not use any self-developed or third party services to search for extra information apart from the information the users share with others. Girls Around Me does not put together data from different social networks.

The Facebook accounts shown as available to send a message are the accounts that Foursquare users make public in their profiles. Girls Around Me does not allow anonymous usage of the messaging service. We made it perfectly clear that any personal message can only be sent from the user’s account in Facebook (if he or she has one), and it can be done only if messaging is allowed by privacy settings of the recipient user.

The app was out for several months already and has not been promoted in order to first to receive user feedback and address privacy concerns, if necessary. Girls Around Me was downloaded more than 70 000 times. Since the app’s launch we’ve seen numerous positive comments from users who claimed that the app helped them to discover “hot spots” – venues that are popular among girls or boys. Since the apps launch till last Friday nobody ever raised a privacy concern because, again, it is clearly stated that Girls Around Me cannot show the user more data than social network already does.

We understand that privacy is a serious matter. We were planning to continue developing the app and limit it to showing only public places and venues. We understand that user generated data might not reflect the real public or private user space (a user can indicate his private space as public and vice versa), but we intended to bring our best effort to work on the available APIs to develop filters to limit user access only to public venues shared by other users.

We are absolutely convinced that it is good and important to educate the users to take care of their privacy and what they share publicly. But we believe it is unethical to pick a scapegoat to talk about the privacy concerns. We see this wave of negative as a serious misunderstanding of the apps’ goals, purpose, abilities and restrictions. Girls Around Me does not provide any data that is unavailable to user when he uses his or her social network account, nor does it reveal any data that users did not share with others. The app was intended for facilitating discovering of great public venues nearby. The app was designed to make it easier for a user to step out of door and hang out in the city, find people with common interests and new places to go to.

We have removed the application from the iTunes Store, because the users get repetitive error message, and we feel that until we find a solution and be able to provide full service, we should restrain from acquiring new users. We shall put our best effort to support the apps existing users and address their concerns.

We are working on providing all necessary comments and data to prove our good intentions. We were (and are) making our best efforts to develop an app that fits user expectations without going beyond the restrictions of social networks.

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  • joewaylo

    I’d report it as a privacy violation. They’re letting people use their gps as a tracking device to find the girls. Maybe they don’t wanna be found amidst predators nearby.

  • Erik Maier

    I’m still pissed at CoM for ruining this for everyone.

  • AndrewMclave

    john brown nose more like, you had the app for a whole month before you wrote this” oh my god, my girlfriend called me out on this smutty app so i had to deflect my shame with rightous indignation so she doesnt see me as the faux feminist horney little toad that I really am” piece. I mean, didnt you read up on this app before downloading, or do you just download at random and then wait a month or two before checking out your purchase! You even joked about thinking it was kind of cool til everyone in your company kind of looked at you with those what the f**k wide eyed stares! and colectivly urged you to”write about this” You knew all about how it was done before you bought it, a month ago! that was the time to be indignant. Not cos your girlfriend told you to be or cos your friends of both sexes embarrased you enough to be! Where were your high morals for that month I ask you? why did you have to be so reactionary to do the right thing? But all that aside, your above piece reeks of powercrazed hit them when theyre down type overkill, and its time for you to get down of your high horse and show some humility! Or you could continue to look petty and vindictive! Its up to you john! By the way, sooner or later, if she hasnt already, your girlfriend is going to ask herself ,and maybe even you, the same questions! I wouldnt like to be in your shoes when she does John! But then, karma always has a funny way of surprising us when we least expect it, and in ways we least expect it to too!

  • Adrian May

    The tone of this is exactly what’s wrong with Western society: all strangers are assumed to be perverts. It’s a wonder we manage to make friends at all, let alone reproduce. Isn’t it safer if the girls can get the supposed perv’s (or potential future husband’s) online ID at the outset? If this supposed perv is after nothing but a one night stand or rape victim, why does he care about all that information? Anyway, don’t we all imagine at the outset that it’s just gonna be a fling but then fall in love in spite of ourselves? I think this kind of paranoia just goes to show that people should switch the computer off and actually go outside and meet some human beings.

  • Whatmenwillneverget

    Adrian May is so obviously a man it hurts. All strangers are assumed to be perverts because they can be. Every man that walks up to you already knowing information about you that you did not explicitly give to him (and being ignorant about online safety or programs such as that is not explicit consent by any means. Silence is not “yes”) is a creep AND a pervert if the reason he obtained that information was to attempt to have any sort of relationship with you. Men don’t have to worry about their safety like women do. As a woman you can’t just exist easily in a room alone with another man that isn’t already your significant other or a relative (and even then that can be questionable depending on the situation). Every single time i am alone with a man i have to worry. I have to double check to make sure i have a way to protect myself. Walking alone with a man near you? Automatic worry. This app is horrendous. It’s terrifying that as a woman someone has made it even easier to hunt me down like some subhuman species for sport, let alone if their intention is not to try to woo me, but to force themselves upon me because they liked my profile the best. This app might have the functionality for woman to use it to find men, but it’s directed at men who can and will use this against women. Anyone angry about this app getting taken out is the problem with apps like this, the apologists.

  • Laci Csernetics

    I don’t give a shit. These guys are just cool. With brilliant ideas. :))

  • Adrian May
  • Cole Shores

    First off I’m not here to troll or stir the pot, I am a avid mac and iPhone user. I completely agree with the value of an app like this. When your meeting people its a blind shot to make a connection with someone so I don’t know whats wrong with organizing their info in such a way where you can know about a person before you start talking to them if you run in to them so you can make that initial spark. Okcupid and its app does it and its not 86′d in general because all both girls and guys agree to it when they create their profile but that kind of tech is very powerful.

  • RBB

    i prefer to learn from the girl when i meet them than use such programs, not everyone would use such programs in a “bad” way and i can see both sides of the coins in all of this. More Education is needed on personal privacy in this day and age is the MAIN issue, everyone is just talking circles around this.

  • macewan

    I hear the updated Pro version is called “Girls Gone Wild Around Me”. Has in app purchase drink for girls around you. *disclaimer: only in app purchase at fastfood restaurants are French Fries at the moment… hear they’re working on Milk Shake in app purchase to be released with next update.

  • NoFaithInHumannokind

    The jaw-dropping asinine PRECEDENT that this Pandora’x box can set (created by socially retarded with no power of their own), and the stupidity of sociological dysnfunction and human stupidity never ceases to amaze.

  • NoFaithInHumannokind

    But DO be careful, my dears–do be careful! You know why??? ‘Cause the Frankenstein’s monster always bites it’s creator!

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.

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