Social media and location tracking - more un‘appiness

From Digits – a blog from the Wall Street Journal 31/03/12:

The developer of a controversial mobile app that used data from Facebook and Foursquare to reveal the location of nearby women defended its intentions Saturday after drawing a firestorm of criticism over privacy concerns.

On Saturday, Foursquare cut off access to the “Girls Around Me” app that made it possible to view the location of women on a map and their publicly available data and photographs from Facebook. A number of blogs ... question[ed] ... whether the app encourages stalking.

Oh surely not. You can’t possibly be suggesting the internet can be used for spurious ends and that location tracking and prolific (and careless) social media use constitutes a privacy risk? What’s the world coming to?

The Russian app developer, i-Free Innovations, fired back with a strongly worded statement sent to The Wall Street Journal, calling it “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.”

I-Free said “Girls Around Me” only provides data that is publicly available on Foursquare and Facebook.

Not the well-worn, ‘guns don’t kill it’s the people who pull the trigger’ argument? Yep, that old chestnut.

Notably, the developer repeatedly made the case that the app’s intention was simply to help people discover public venues nearby. This despite the name of the app, “Girls Around Me,” and the fact that its promos show women in provocative poses.

Well, I suppose that depends on your definition of provocative. I don’t think there was much doubt that those ladies were ‘open for business’. Ahem.

So was this name chosen to grab attention or does it speak to the true intentions behind the app? If the latter, perhaps it should be renamed to ‘booty tracker. It might be an interesting Law Actually product to follow on from the Fireometer.

Here’s a potential mock-up.

location tracking app  legal

Still, that leaves the app name open to accusations of sexism. I nearly suggested an even blunter name.  Oh don’t look at me like that. It’s nothing worse than what tacitly goes on in bars across the country every night of the week.

Be right back

I’m long past beating the ‘don’t you care about privacy’ drum so I’m not going to attempt to wheel those arguments out again now.  Given the fact that app stores will drop this like a stone, I don’t think many of the broader issues will have chance to be aired anyway.  Besides, doesn’t Facebook give users enough opportunity to flirt with old acquaintances/colleagues and hook up illicit (and guilt-ridden) delight?

FWIW, I don’t enable each and every app on my phone to track my location and I struggle to understand why people actively opt in to some of those services that offer tracking. The cons simply outweigh the pros making it a non-starter. And society has got enough harassment worries without giving people yet another reason to look over their shoulder on the way home.


  1. There is a thin line between cyber stalking and searching for information. Cyber stalking is negative. Searching for informaiton is positive and therefore, good netiquette. The App's name and intentions are what got it removed. The same app by a different name is no longer cyber stalking. It's like a background check for the place your going.


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