Stalking complete strangers on Facebook is about to become as easy as snapping a pic thanks to a new facial recognition app.
Launching later this month, Facezam promises to be able to identify people by matching a photo to a person’s Facebook profile. If it works as well as advertised, it might be time to kiss your anonymity goodbye.
Last week, we stirred up a maelstrom of controversy when we posted about Girls Around Me, an iOS app that allowed you to locate and view publicly available information on women in any area.
Since we posted the story, over half a million people have come to our site to read about the app, over 65,000 people have shared it on Facebook, and leading publications at home and abroad have followed our lead in reporting on the app, which we described as not just as a potential tool for rapists and stalkers that was putting thousands of women at risk without their knowledge, but a wake-up called about privacy.
Girls Around Me has since been pulled from the iTunes App Store, but considering we were the ones who stirred up so much trouble for the app’s Russian-based developer, i-Free, I thought we would reach out and give them the opportunity to set the record straight. What was i-Free thinking when they released this app? What do they make of the controversy surrounding it? Do they have any regrets? And will Girls Around Me come back?
i-Free’s responses to these questions might prove to be just as controversial as the app itself. The company denies having done anything wrong. They say it is “impossible” to stalk or track someone with their app. They say that the point of the app is just as much about avoiding ugly women on a night out as it is about looking for love. And they’re not sorry.
When we broke the story on Friday about Girls Around Me — an iOS app by Russian-based app developer i-Free that allowed users to stalk women in thee neighborhood without those women’s knowledge, right down to their most personal details — Foursquare was quick to respond within hours, cutting off the API access that the app relied upon to function.
Foursquare’s swift response to the issue effectively killed Girls Around Me, and i-Free quickly yanked the app from the App Store in the aftermath until they could figure out a way to restore service. And for a lot of people, the story ended there. The app’s gone. Why keep talking about it?
That’s exactly the way Foursquare (and Facebook) wants things.
Thanks to a great article by our own John Brownlee, we now know how easy it is for apps and people to stalk you using location-sharing services like FourSquare and Facebook. And now the more paranoid among you might be wondering, just how do I turn these things off?
Theoretically, you would have already checked the privacy settings when you signed up. But that’s like reading the manual before you switch on a new gadget: Almost nobody ever does it. So here’s a quick guide to locking down FourSquare, and a rather more involved guide to shutting down Facebook.
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.”
In direct response to our story from earlier today about Girls Around Me, an iOS app by Russian-based app developer i-Free that tracks and gives personal information about women without their knowledge, Foursquare has released a statement announcing that they have officially killed Girls Around Me’s access to their public API.
“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.
“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.