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Why privacy matters

We missed out. This iPhone app, Girls Around Me, has been yanked from the Apple store. It was a geolocation based mapping application that created a google map of your current location, and then checked in with facebook to find all the women who had done any social networking in that area. Then it tracked through their data to post pictures of them on the map.

Isn’t that sweet? All you women were made public targets for a kind of weird hunting game. I presume you are all now logging into facebook and trying to sort through the arcane tangle of options to limit access.

In case you’re thinking this was an app designed for creepy stalkers, though, you’ve got it all wrong. It’s the opposite of stalking. The designer has said that the purpose of the app was to allow his bros to avoid the ugly girls.

Doesn’t that make you feel so much better now?

Comments

  1. Dick the Damned says

    Apple has to approve apps, or so i understand. I guess their ethics department was out to lunch when that one came up for approval.

  2. says

    But now, as six intelligent, sophisticated friends from a variety of backgrounds surrounded me — some looking sick, some looking angry, and some with genuine fear in their faces — I didn’t think Girls Around Me was so funny. It had cast a pall across a beautiful day, and it had made people I loved feel scared… not just for the people they loved, but for complete strangers.

    It’s making me feel sick and angry. Just what the world needs, a tool for creeps to be even creepier. Yeah, just what the stalker in your life needs, an easy way to track you. I…I…

    :head sinks slowly onto laptop:

  3. Jerry says

    This app is just… facepalm material. No other word to describe it. And I say this as a guy who likes looking around at pretty women. How could someone be socialized, pass the age of 10 and think this was okay? Or am I making too many assumptions there?

  4. Part-Time Insomniac, Zombie Porcupine Nox Arcana Fan says

    Fuuuuuuuuuck, why do all my friends HAVE to be on facebook? It was fun when only college students and professionals could use it.

    Changing privacy settings, now.

  5. christophburschka says

    That app sounds icky, but the worrying issue here is that the Facebook API presents user profiles and photos to strangers in a reverse location search in the first place. What non-nefarious purpose could this possibly serve?

  6. A. R says

    Oh, this is fucked up in every way imaginable. What a perfect tool for PUAs and rapists.

  7. says

    Major ick factor there, and I’d probably be the sort of person they’re targeting. What’s so bloody difficult about “opt in”?

  8. jba55 says

    The only thing I could think of that could be good about it is if it didn’t actually show girls but put up a list of the creeps who signed up for it somewhere. Turnaround is fair play.

  9. carlie says

    What non-nefarious purpose could this possibly serve?

    So that local businesses can push coupons directly at people on facebook as the people are walking by their store, natch.

    What’s so bloody difficult about “opt in”?

    Because then not everyone would do it, and they’d have less data.

  10. Kagehi says

    Sadly, two mistakes where made here:

    1. Being listed without permission.
    2. It was about gender.

    Why do I say those are the mistakes? Well.. What if the app had been so that people with a common interest, like Star Trek, or something? Maybe your setting up a 2600 hacker meeting, so you want people interested to know where the group is congregating in the local mall (possibly because the location moved, and there was no way to tell everyone). There are a lot of legit reasons why using precisely this sort of app would be good, and just as many cases where having yourself listed in such a manner is dangerous (like some crazy looking for the “atheists” among them, so they know which people to shoot, or some insane crap like that).

    But, the fact remains, it was a stupid decisions, compounded by Facebooks fundamental inability to comprehend that people don’t necessarily want their information to be out there for everyone, by default, instead of what they want people to see. Its annoying that this was the “trial case”, if you will, for such an app. The idea itself wasn’t entirely stupid. What they chose to use it to do….

  11. brianl says

    Everybody’s way late to the party, and missing the point a bit. All this app did was access opt in information (a combination between Facebook and Foursquare–the app broke when Foursquare pulled the app’s access to their publicly available data). As with most things computer, once the pipes were set up, it just made it simpler to get to the data you were interested in (publicly available Facebook data filtered by sex and tied to times they checked in to physical location on Foursquare).

    This is why I don’t use any apps on Facebook, have my security setting aggressively locked down (until they change them again without notice), and never, ever post anything of consequence on Facebook.

    The world would be a much happier place if people started treating Facebook and other social media less like televisions and more like chainsaws. Dangerous equipment has its place helping you perform tasks, but it’s important to know how to operate it (even if it looks simple).

  12. says

    brianl:

    missing the point a bit.

    I’m not missing the point at all. Sure, people need to be more aware of privacy and security settings. That said, it’s you who is missing the point. The app is highly sexist in nature, which, in case you missed it, is pointed out in all the articles. The app creator says it can be used to hunt find women, men and venues, however, the interface is obviously targeting women. The creator goes on to say it was for those looking for a ‘one night stand’ and wanted to avoid ‘ugly women’.

    Hard to get more plain, doncha think? Now, you might be unaware of this, however, menz on the hunt for ‘one night stands’ tends to include a lot of sleazy assholes like PUAs and MRAs, who don’t see any sort of a problem with getting a woman seriously drunk or slipping a little something into her drink and so on.

    There might be ways to look at such an app benignly, such as Kagehi pointed out (fan groups, etc.), however, it’s more than clear that the basis and reason for this app being created in the first place was to hand sexist creeps a tool to be even creepier.

    Perhaps you’ve never been stalked, Brian. Perhaps you’ve never been raped. I’ve had both those experiences and from where I sit, this app is bad fucking news.

    I’ll also point out that the app hasn’t gone away – it looks like it might very well be back. If it does come back, you can rest assured that every creep out there will be armed with it.

  13. says

    Jesse Ruderman:

    I’ve benefited from being public with a lot of my data.

    That’s just wonderful.

    Women should be able to do the same without constantly being told they are inviting rapists to stalk them.

    In an ideal world, I’d agree. However, in a world where a high percentage of women are (and will be) raped, it’s a bit stupid to be ignorant of the possibility.

  14. says

    Jesse:

    You do realize the best way to prevent rape is to tell people not to rape, right? The reaction was along those lines, asking why the hell someone would actually do this. It’s not like it’s particularly difficult technically, but there are certain things that you could do that really don’t have a legitimate use. This is one of them.

  15. Louis says

    I saw this in the news. I was beyond squicked out by it. This was a “stalker’s charter” of an app.

    Urgh.

    Louis

  16. says

    Jesse, why don’t you fucking read up on how often women are stalked and threatened just for being online/in public before you start mansplaining to us silly li’l gurlz how we’re “overreacting” to this sort of thing.

    (Big surprise, Forbes doesn’t get it, and they got a woman to write the article so that they can claim they can’t be sexist.)

  17. says

    Ms. Daisy Cutter:

    (Big surprise, Forbes doesn’t get it, and they got a woman to write the article so that they can claim they can’t be sexist.)

    Well, it’s not as if women can’t be (or aren’t) sexist themselves. I’ve talked to a whole lot of young women who didn’t realize they bought straight into sexism and parroted sexist crap for a good number of years. That’s one of the problems with entrenched sexism. We all grow up soaking in it.

    Then, of course, we get the ever helpful types like brianl and Jesse to ‘splain that it’s no big deal at all, what with them having their privilege-tinted lenses glued to their eyeballs.

  18. says

    Daisy:

    Jesse, why don’t you fucking read up on how often women are stalked and threatened just for being online/in public before you start mansplaining to us silly li’l gurlz how we’re “overreacting” to this sort of thing.

    Jesus, we’ve had women here talk about their stalkers and the shit that they’ve been through because of it.

    But we’re just women, right? If we just acted like men, then we’d have no problems at all, right?

    *spits!*

  19. says

    Caine:

    Well, it’s not as if women can’t be (or aren’t) sexist themselves.

    Indeed. One can even identify as a feminist and spout it…

    Audley:

    But we’re just women, right? If we just acted like men, then we’d have no problems at all, right?

    Of course. Remember this shit? Yep, it’s our fault we’re underpaid because we don’t ask for raises. Also, it’s our fault we get raped because we don’t fight back against rapists (TW), and it’s our fault we get stalked because we say mean things on the internet.

    But… aside from all that, why are we getting so hysterical and emotional over this subject? I mean, Jesse shares HIS information online, and nothing’s happened to HIM, right? Silly females!

  20. says

    Ms. Daisy Cutter:

    I mean, Jesse shares HIS information online, and nothing’s happened to HIM, right?

    Oh my yes. Why he’s even discussed porn with his mom. And no one stalked him!!1!

  21. JoeBuddha says

    What strikes me as even worse is the fact that this app probably wasn’t all that sophisticated. I know people who could probably recreate it in a week or so, and it wouldn’t take me much more than two, even though I’m not really a mobile dev. The real problem is the existence and availability of the information. Real-time positional data is a REALLY bad idea; let’s save it for 911 calls and turn it off for everything else…

  22. spyro says

    #30 JoeBuddha

    What strikes me as even worse is the fact that this app probably wasn’t all that sophisticated.

    What strikes me as even worse is it’s not such a big deal that this fact doesn’t/won’t affect men as worse as it will women. If we ever get equal, your post will be a valid point. Until such time (and we can hope, but hope doesn’t necessitate reality), applications as blatantly titled as this, ‘Girls around me’, will always be about men looking for living holes in which to stick it, and not about a social application for people looking for others with similar viewpoints, be that slutty as may (and trust, I’m well up for the slutty meeting the slutty).

    Sorry if I borked the links AGAIN.

  23. says

    spyro:

    applications as blatantly titled as this, ‘Girls around me’, will always be about men looking for living holes in which to stick it, and not about a social application for people looking for others with similar viewpoints

    QFT.

  24. Just_A_Lurker says

    From Jesse’s linked article on Forbes

    A recent Pew study found that women are the savvier sex when it comes to privacy settings, visiting them and ramping them up at much higher rates than men.

    Maybe that is due to shit like this? You know, creepy people finding you and stalking you?

    The women “exposed” by ‘Girls Around Me’ have chosen to be on Foursquare, and the company tells me that the app was only able to pull up a woman’s Facebook profile if she chose to link it to her Foursquare account.

    Well,in your article you are so valiantly defending the women’s right to expose themselves online and then this quote happens. If Foursquare makes it opt in for Facebook link then why the fuck isn’t “Girls Around Me” opt in as well? Sure, some may want to be on the app but others may not and the app totally disregarded those people’s privacy wishes. Knowingly linking your Facebook account is one thing, but having another app use your information so guys can hook up with one night stands and weed out ugly chicks is quite another.

    Seriously, you do not get it.

  25. Louis says

    Oh dear, have women come online and dared to speak about their “less-than-pleasant”* real life experiences and why apps such as this increase the likelihood of those sorts of experiences happening to other women?

    Silly, silly wimminz! Your experiences count as only half of the equivalent mansperience. Why I had a mansperience the other day where I totally did not get stalked and raped whilst using an iphone. Therefore I declare it to be no problem. Silly wimminz!

    Now do I have to mansplain this to you silly little wimminz again or do I have to show you?

    Oh that’s totally not a threat, it’s an educational opportunity for silly wimminz!

    Louis

    * Louis goes for the Understatement of the Millenium award. A strong bid with that phrasing, methinks.

  26. usagichan says

    What I find really worrying is the reaction to this (utterly creepy and disturbing app) from the companies involved – ok they have revoked the privliges of the company producing the app, but the data that was being exploited remains exactly as was. Any reasonably tecchie geek would be able to re-create the (dis) functionality because it is in Faceboooks/ Foursquare’s interest to keep as much info about you in the public domain as they possibly can.

    Having said that, you don’t need to be a tecchie to exploit these social networking services for disturbing purposes, as Omoroco (Japanese Preformance art type person) showed , posting your activities on Twitter is enough to let a total stranger track you down in real time.

    Me – I keep well away from Facebook (never had an account) and have tried to educate my children about the risks inherent in using this “free” service. Whilst the “Girls Around Me” app was the epitoime of creepy abuse of the system, the Facebook business model is such that the next scary abusive system is just around the corner.

  27. says

    Caine:

    As if I needed another reason to be happy I got out of facebook.

    Exactly. Been out since last year on my active account. I do have another account that I never use. Unfortunately some services require Facebook login. It’s incredibly annoying.

    … and to the “this is not a big deal”-crowd: Fuck you. Your arguments are getting old and continue to be clueless.

  28. LightningRose says

    As an IT professional I have long warned that FaceBook is a privacy nightmare, no matter how well one thinks they’re locking down their privacy settings.

    I should change my name to Cassandra.

  29. says

    Me stopping to use facebook coincided with me starting to use Twitter much more.

    I’m a person who value her privacy, but at the same time don’t take herself too seriously and am not afraid to share some personal information – as long as I have control over it.

    Twitter is manageable in that there aren’t that many ways information is shared. Everything you post is readable by anyone so all you need to do is keep that in mind. It is not that easy to access old Tweets either, which further helps making the past being the past.

    Facebook is essentially collective information-masturbation. Even with an inactive account, information can be shared about you and linked to your account. Which is a privacy-nightmare if you’re on the receiving end of harassment and unwanted attention as some of my friends have been. Both male and female. And as many, I too have been facebook-stalked. At least enough that it made me conscious about what is out there.

  30. says

    Jadzia:

    And as many, I too have been facebook-stalked.

    I was net stalked* years before fb was even a gleam in a greedy eye. If someone is intent on stalking you, they will find a way to do it.

    *So was Aquaria, another regular here and we both had our stalkers wander into our meatspace lives. Not a good time.

    To me, the discussion about social networking and privacy controls is pointless and a derail from the actual issue. People are going to be social, full stop. Well, most of them, anyway.

    The actual issue is how entrenched, toxic sexism is not only thriving in such media, it’s being applauded and defended by those with privilege-coloured lenses glued to their eyeballs.

  31. says

    Yeah, it is a bit of a sidetrack. But one of my friends did get stalked by someone who’d greatly benefit from such an app. Luckily she was smart enough to not use facebook at that time.

    The actual issue is how entrenched, toxic sexism is not only thriving in such media, it’s being applauded and defended by those with privilege-coloured lenses glued to their eyeballs.

    I’m continuously baffled by this “I can’t see it therefore it doesn’t exist”-logic these people use. Even in skeptic circles this seems a common attitude on the topic of sexism. I’ve heard some really weird ideas on it at skeptics meetings.

  32. Ogvorbis: Insert Appropriate Appelation Here says

    ’m continuously baffled by this “I can’t see it therefore it doesn’t exist”-logic these people use.

    One of the big reasons for the denial of socially damaging concepts and practices is that, once one recognizes that the practice exists, and it is damaging (such as racism, misogyny, ablism), change in one’s behaviour is necessary. If one cannot see it, and, by extension, it doesn’t exist, then there is no reason to change one’s behaviour. Denial of damaging concepts and practices makes it easy to remain unchanged — the problem does not exist, therefore I am not part of the problem.

  33. says

    Ogvorbis:

    the problem does not exist, therefore I am not part of the problem.

    Also known as: Problem? There’s no problem. The only problem is in your fuzzy, pink lady brains. Look – here’s a chill girl and she says there’s no problem. Silly wimmins.

  34. says

    Jadzia:

    “You’re just being emotional.”

    Aah, a classic. We get a lot of the “stop being so emotional/hysterical!” here. Generally shouted by testerical menz. ;P

  35. Circe says

    …the Facebook API presents user profiles and photos to strangers in a reverse location search in the first place. What non-nefarious purpose could this possibly serve?

    I can think of several marketing related ones: trying to send people invitations to apps if the apps in question happen to be popular in their geographical area.

    However, I think more than looking at the evils of this particular app (of which there are many), the really important issue here is the evils of the privacy regime of social networks, as the the author of the original article suggests. This app, after all, is just a sampler for one kind of bad thing that can be done. The scarier omen here is what kinds of similar “applications” the future is hiding.

  36. David Marjanović says

    So… the creep stalks everyone by default and then “weeds out the ugly girls”, and he believes this is standard male behavior or something?

    It’s fractally creepy.

    Why I had a mansperience the other day

    Win upon win upon win.

  37. Agent Silversmith, Post Palladium Isotope says

    *bitter sarcasm mode on*

    What’s the problem, if a creepy app user approaches you, all you need to do is say no!

    *bitter sarcasm … No, it stays on. With extra headdesk*

  38. 'Tis Himself says

    Lightning Rose #37

    As an IT professional I have long warned that FaceBook is a privacy nightmare, no matter how well one thinks they’re locking down their privacy settings.

    The privacy problems with FaceBook are legendary. I don’t suffer from luddism but I refuse to have anything to do with FB.

  39. The Amazing Rando says

    As a member of the male gender, I would like to humbly apologize for the stupidity of one of our gender’s mistakes. He is very stupid and the actions taken by this fool do not represent the opinions of male gender entirely. Rest assured those involved will be tracked down by our crack team of rabid wolverines and dealt with accordingly. In closing, I would again like to apologize for his actions, and ask that you do not take personal offense to these actions.

    Thank you for you patience in this matter.

  40. Esteleth, Who is Totally Not a Dog or Ferret says

    Rando, the best way to make that apology stick is to act on it. If you see a guy going on about how the app is awesome, stomp on it. If you hear a guy bragging about how he totally nailed that drunk chick, treat him like the rapist he is. If a guy tells a sexist joke around you, call him on it.

    Basically, don’t just stand on the sidelines shaking your head.

  41. John Morales says

    [musing]

    Privacy does matter, but for the nonce much of it depends on being aware and opting out. These are the good old days when privacy was possible. Short window, but.

    (Those of you with smartphones: they do GPS, no?)

  42. John Morales says

    [meta]

    TAR:

    As a member of the male gender, I would like to humbly apologize for the stupidity of one of our gender’s mistakes.

    Vicarious apology is vicarious.

    (Bah)

  43. Esteleth, Who is Totally Not a Dog or Ferret says

    Yes, they do John. I usually have my GPS deactivated, if for no other reason than the battery drain.

  44. John Morales says

    [OT]

    Esteleth, there you go.

    There is a protocol whereby your phone establishes its location.

    (Corollary: there is a record in the location servers of their serving of your phone’s request)

  45. says

    John Morales:

    Those of you with smartphones: they do GPS, no?

    They don’t just “do” GPS (as in, you can turn the function on and off), they track you at all times*. That’s what makes it easy to “check in” with things like Facebook, Twitter, etc– your phone always knows where you are.

    I’ve always been worried about what exactly law enforcement could do with that kind of information (fuck, we’re happily doing Big Brother’s job for him), but now it’s incredibly clear that pretty much anyone can track anyone else.

    *At least the iPhone and ‘Droid OPs do.

  46. says

    Agent Silversmith, PPI:

    What’s the problem, if a creepy app user approaches you, all you need to do is say no!

    Yeah, we’ll do that! Because that always works.

    :joins you in the bitter sarcasm with extra headdesk:

  47. says

    Audley:

    your phone always knows where you are.

    I’m glad I don’t have one. Hell, the first thing I did with my nook was to kill all social/networking capability.

  48. says

    E,
    With the whole Apple “tracking controversy” from last year, it wasn’t just the GPS function that the phone was using to track its user– it also used data from cell towers, wifi hotspots, etc to determine location. IIRC, the phone logged where you were, whether or not you even used the GPS function.

    I did a quick Googling and it looks like Apple never really addressed the problem except to say “Nuh uh! We’re not evil!” and everyone promptly forgot about it.

  49. Esteleth, Who is Totally Not a Dog or Ferret says

    Audley’s right, John. Even with GPS and wi-fi turned off, so long as the phone has ANY signal, the exact location can be triangulated off nearby towers to within a few feet.

  50. John Morales says

    [meta]

    Esteleth, sure, but I did say we can still opt out.

    (I don’t have a mobile, I have a landline)

  51. says

    Caine:

    I’m glad I don’t have one.

    Yeah, it’s creepy as shit. Every time I hear about something like the Girls Around Me app or the iPhone/Pad tracking controversy, I seriously debate just tossing my smartphone into the river.

    Then I realize that I can’t afford to pay full price for a new phone (even a luddite cell phone) and I haz a sad. :(

  52. John Morales says

    [paranoia]

    You do know smartphones run on software, and that they have pretty good mikes (other than their location capability) and cameras.

    (Just sayin’)

  53. says

    Audley:

    Then I realize that I can’t afford to pay full price for a new phone (even a luddite cell phone) and I haz a sad. :(

    Mister has a cell, but it’s no smart phone. It’s a phone, that’s all. Doesn’t do anything else. He went to look up a number on it last time we were in Best Buy, and the young guy working there just freaked – “omg, it has an antenna!1!!” Heh.

  54. says

    John Morales:

    … but I did say we can still opt out.

    Uh, not everyone, no.

    My employer provides all sales staff/management with cell phones. True, I leave it at home when I’m not at work, but I still have it on me 9-10 hours a day. Oh, and it’s required that if I’m on the clock, I have to have it on and accessible.

    So, yeah, I can’t really give up cell phones.

  55. says

    Audley:

    My employer provides all sales staff/management with cell phones.

    A lot of employers do that now and if traveling is involved with the job, there’s no choice about having the GPS going, because it’s how they track their employees.

  56. John Morales says

    [[meta]]

    Dr. Audley Z. Darkheart, but that’s fair enough (can’t expect privacy at work!)*.

    * Present paradigm.

  57. says

    Caine:

    A lot of employers do that now and if traveling is involved with the job, there’s no choice about having the GPS going, because it’s how they track their employees.

    Bingo.

    Trust me, it’s super creepy to get a call from the General manager along the lines of, “so, did you know that Tom took over an hour break on Tuesday and Friday?” Not only do they have the capacity to track us, but they do.

    Jon Morales:

    (can’t expect privacy at work!)

    Pretty much.

    But, really, there’s not a whole hell of a lot that I (or anyone else) can do about it.

  58. Sal Bro says

    It strikes me as totally weird that people need an app to help them locate 50% of the population.

  59. Anri says

    The only thing I could think of that could be good about it is if it didn’t actually show girls but put up a list of the creeps who signed up for it somewhere. Turnaround is fair play.

    Yeah, this.

    There should be an ap listing all of those with “Girls Around Me” activated. We’ll call it “Creeps Around Me”.

    I figure even the densest ProBro will figure out his ap’s no good after being shown the result screen for “Creeps” a few times. Of course, he’ll just be mad at women for ruining a good thing, but it will at least slow him down a bit.

  60. valhar2000 says

    Well, frankly, I am impressed by this app: if the description of what it does is accurate, it is quite impressive. It certainly is a pitty that such technical acumen is wasted on people who would think that developing this app is a good idea.