Girls Around Me app both creepy and sobering

April 3, 2012

Girls Around Me app both creepy and soberingAn application that briefly appeared on the iTunes store allowed users to physically track down single women and send them messages. But the app only worked because of sloppy privacy practices.

Girls Around Me, which has just been pulled from the app store by Russian developers i-Free, worked entirely from publicly available information. It did nothing that a person with enough time, inclination and questionable morals couldn’t have done themselves.

The app simply scanned through data that was publicly available through FourSquare and Facebook. Firstly it looked at FourSquare check-ins and highlighted venues that had a particularly high female-male ratio among those who’d checked in.

Then things get a little more creepier. The app cross-referenced FourSquare accounts with Facebook accounts and, wherever possible, brought up a list of women in the venue who had listed themselves as single, giving the user their name and photograph, as well as the option to send them a Facebook message.

The service has now been unviable as FourSquare has blocked the developers from using its API, the facility that allows companies to access and use data in a technologically simple manner. With Girls Around Me now technically useless, i-Free has voluntarily pulled it from the app store, saving Apple the problem of having to decide if it breaches any of its own regulations.

i-Free is reportedly trying to figure out a workaround and relaunch the service. That’s a real shame as I really wanted to believe this wasn’t a genuine attempt to use a creepy service to make cash from socially questionable folk, but rather a brilliant expose of just how much information about ourselves we allow to be made public.

It is certainly true that any woman who was featured on this service had the power to avoid it by paying closer attention to their privacy settings. But it won’t be possible to put all the blame on users until social networking firms stop the practice of always making minimal or non-existent privacy the default setting.

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