Over at the blog Cult of Mac (here), I read about an app that illustrates the importance of being cognizant of one's online presence. In This Creepy App Isn't Just Stalking Women Without Their Knowledge, Its a Wake-Up Call About Facebook Privacy, John Brownlee writes about "Girls Around Me." Here is an excerpt:
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. * * *
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. * * *
Apparently (see here), it is possible for anyone with a publicly available profile on Facebook to be "checked in" to locations (and thus to Girls Around Me) by a "friend" without knowing it.
[A]s 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. * * *
[L]ike 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. * * *
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.
Good reminder to all of us.