The Lawful Masses Law & Technology Blog
Don't stalk "Girls Around Me"
The public information gap
By Leonard J. French, Esq. – Posted: 3-April, 2012 – 12:46 EDT – Edited: 10-May, 2012 – 07:45 EDT
The "Girls Around Me" iphone app has been called "creepy" and a "stalker app" and women everywhere have expressed outrage that this app existed. It was created by Russian mobile app developer i-Free to help guys locate the popular hang-outs of women. The developer vountarily pulled the app from the Apple App Store after Foursquare responded to public criticism of the app by preventing the app's access to Foursquare Check-In information.
But was that criticism unfounded? Like the "Kony 2012" viral video campaign, did the outraged citizens forget to do their homework? What kind of information did the app provide and how did it get it?
The app worked by accessing publicly-available Facebook and Foursquare check-in information and coordinating it with a map of the user's surroundings so the user can find people around them. The app was marketed as being able to help men locate women (apparently already elevating the creepiness factor and forgetting that sometimes people do want to be found).
How did these women's location information get onto the Foursquare and Facebook in the first place? Given the outrage, I expected that these women were private individuals whose locations had somehow been taken without their permission.
Each of these users completed the act of checking in to a venue using their Foursquare or Facebook accounts. Those accounts, in turn, each had privacy settings set to "public". Thus, each of these women either wanted to provide their location or didn't know that they were sharing their location publicly (despite their having opened an account and used it to check in).
Is the app creepy? Maybe, but consider author Sarah Jacobsson Purewal's take on it:
"If anything, the only thing the Girls Around Me app is going to do is make socially awkward nerds even more socially awkward because now they have to navigate a conversation with a girl without accidentally mentioning something way too creepy, such as her birth date or her "complicated" relationship status."
A user of the "Girls Around Me" app may be able to locate women at a coffee shop. Then what? Walk in, say "Hi", and try to have nice conversation with someone. How outrageous!
I expect that some women are concerned that someone would find them at the coffee shop and pursue and harass them (or worse). But what prevents that now? If you're at the coffee shop, bar, club, or whereever you checked in, what prevents people from finding you the old-fashioned way: by bumping into you? And since you already checked in to Foursquare or Facebook, and your privacy settings are "public", then what was "Girls Around Me" doing that's any different than finding you via Foursquare and Facebook? No outrage there?
The lesson is this: look before you leap. Don't make your settings "public" if you don't want to be found. Better yet, don't check in if you don't want to be found.
I was recently at an IP law conference where I did want to be found. I have my current picture as my profile pic, publicly tweeted about each seminar, and, miraculously, several very cool people found me and said "I saw you on twitter". So, there is a point to these apps for people who know how to use them.
As always, please feel free to contact me with comments. I am, as always,
Leonard J. French