Stalker app Girls Around Me hunts women via Facebook, Foursquare

Stalker app Girls Around Me hunts women via Facebook, Foursquare

Summary: Online outrage increases over sexualized, so-called stalking app Girls Around Me - though it is not the first of its kind.

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The app Girls Around Me is being labeled "a wake-up call" for Facebook privacy.

It's a sexual predator's wet dream.

Girls Around Me is an app that merges Facebook and Foursquare data and layers it over Google Maps with real-time GPS location data to show the user where the nearest women are.

UPDATE 04.01.12: The Girls Around Me developer claims the attention is making him a "privacy scapegoat." meanwhile, the app has been pulled from the app store (by the developer) and in light of the dangerous potential of this app Foursquare has closed API access to the Girls Around Me app, saying that it violates their API policy. Facebook has not made a statement or taken any action. A Foursquare spokesperson told commenters on Hacker News, "We prohibit using our API in any manner that is threatening, invasive of another's privacy, or otherwise inappropriate." /update

The app urges users (the default assumption is a male user looking for women) to find in person and message nearby girls using information about them pulled from the girls' Facebook profiles, including their photo galleries.

The targeted individuals are unaware they are being tracked and do not have the ability to opt-in - or opt-out.

It does what a lot of geo-location and gaming apps do, though it was only a matter of time before an app such as Girls Around Me (iTunes) framed itself as a stalking tool: the app is explicitly for the user to "find girls" to date.

Sexualizing the target: unknowing women

While users should probably be run through stalking and sex offender databases the free app merely requires the user to use Foursquare and have an iPhone.

Girls Around me is made by the Moscow-based company i-Free.

Users pick a gender (typically user male / target female). A radar-style map opens up to find girls nearby.

Girls Around Me is a revolutionary new city scanner app than turns your town into a dating paradise!

Use it to see where hot girls and guys are hanging out in your area, view their photos and make contact!

The girls have no idea they're being scanned or that their publicly available Facebook and Foursquare data is being loaded into some dude's phone app.

The women also don't know that the user sees their photos layered over their current location (if they have checked in recently).

As many of us know, if you don't have your Facebook settings nailed down then your friends can check you into locations. Yay.

What the targeted girls would also probably not appreciate is that they are each represented with foxy-lady style icons, like busty strippers set to take a salacious swing on the pole.

That the icons look like female sex worker icons, or any kind of erotic invitation, is beyond problematic.

The app doesn't expressly say "stalking" on it.

Yet after Cult of Mac's John Brownlee saw it in action, he had no doubt in his mind that the app was the creepiest, most potentially harmful use of APIs and data he'd seen in the iTunes store to date.

I pressed the button ... 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.

(...) I tapped on Zoe. Girls Around Me quickly loaded up a fullscreen render of her Facebook profile picture. The app then told me where Zoe had last been seen (The Independent) and when (15 minutes ago).

A big green button at the bottom reading “Photos & Messaging” just begged to be tapped, and when I did, I was whisked away to Zoe’s Facebook profile.

(...) I now know her full name. I can see at a glance that she’s single, that she is 24, that she went to Stoneham High School and Bunker Hill Community College, that she likes to travel, that her favorite book is Gone With The Wind and her favorite musician is Tori Amos, and that she’s a liberal.

I can see the names of her family and friends. I can see her birthday.

The data harvest is not a two-way street; Mr. Brownlee's information was not being provided to the women he was experimentally app-stalking.

The women don't get notifications of any kind - let alone equal information about who is tracking them, making the app's use an undisputed power-over situation.

It's not hard to imagine this app in the wrong hands.

Girls Around Me calls itself a dating app, yet seems targeted at the "pick up artist" market - guys that read "The Game" and make sport of using unscrupulous methods to get laid.

You made it public in the first place: today's "she was asking for it"?

It's easy to make a comparison to Grindr, but that is a mistake.

Gay male app Grindr sells itself as a hookup app - successfully - yet the app is a two-way handshake of informed consent about the exchange of personally identifying information and location. Big difference.

The argument that might make Girls Around Me seem legit relies on the public APIs and the information social networks - their users - are making public.

Unlike us paranoid privacy tech people, most regular people are not aware that this can be done with their online activity; combining it, packaging it for anyone's use in real time.

Let alone that someone would create an app that exploits personal information as a way of getting an advantage over someone else for sexual conquest.

Needless to say, it's a terrible idea to use this to meet women. Not simply from an ethical standpoint: no sane girl is going to warm up to a strange man that approaches her knowing way too much about her in the first place.

No matter how this app sells itself, I can promise you that women don't think stalking is hot.

Location based creepiness isn't new

Yes, the data is out there, and Girls Around Me isn't the first of its kind.

Apps have been doing this since at least 2009, when Stalqer was launched.

Stalqer was a location-based startup that essentially scraped all the public data it could find using a number of open APIs, then combined them into one big, very current and scarily accurate, frightening profile about you.

Like Girls Around Me, it relied heavily on Facebook and Foursquare. However, it didn't sell itself as a way to get laid.

I met with CEO Mick Johnson in 2010 at the Read Write Web Mobile Summit 2010, and grilled him about Stalqer and consent.

Johnson explained that Stalqer's point was that people are unknowingly putting more information in the publicly available sphere than they realize.

By packaging Stalqer as a "find your friends" geolocation app and naming it Stalqer ("Stalker") it would ostensibly make users immediately aware of the situation they are currently in with their data.

It had a hacker's approach to raising awareness about the harvesting of your public data: it examined the line into nonconsent that is crossed when your public data is packaged and handed off to someone else without your explicit opt-in (Stalqer was acquired, and closed in 2011).

User privacy and safety must work hand-in-hand with informed consent

Made by privacy-obsessed tech geeks, Stalqer subversively aimed to point the finger at the big companies that make it possible through their business models for pretty much anyone to access certain kinds of personal information.

Girls Around Me simply exploits your public data openly. And sexualizes it.

I asked Johnson about getting one's data off of Stalqer - especially since the information was being aggregated about people regardless of voluntary participation (reminding me about issues around Facebook tracking people that are not Facebook users).

To opt-out, I would first need to claim and verify that the data footprint was mine. But then, he explained, the big companies are still collecting it and making it available to be re-compiled by anyone, let alone his company.

So for all the - well founded - outcry and outrage about Girls Around Me right now, it serves to know that apps like this have been considered a potential business model for years, and will likely continue for years to come.

The question is: where does responsibility lie for individual safety with an app such as Girls Around Me?

And - when are companies that handle data which could be dangerous in the wrong hands going to realize that user privacy and safety must work hand-in-hand with informed consent?

I hope we never find out the hard way.

Topics: Apps, CXO, Legal, Mobile OS, Operating Systems, Security, IT Employment, Social Enterprise

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21 comments
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  • Facebook better get a handle on this or

    They can kiss their users - and their market cap - good bye. It's hard to know what it will take for users to revolt, but its often an incident - too often violent - that garners publicity and turns the tide.
    R Harris
  • How horrible!

    "[i]the app is explicitly for the user to ???find girls??? to date.[/i]"

    Oh, wow! How horrible! Guys wanting to meet women who are interested in dating them. What is this world coming to??

    Next thing you know, the guy might even want to [i]marry[/i] someone he meets! Horror of horrors! We've got to stop this now!

    It's the same old story over and over--if you don't want your information available to the public, DON'T POST IT ON THE INTERNET!
    Rick_R
    • Really?

      Congrats on justifying exploitation.
      I12BPhil
    • Not a good way to meet women

      Except women aren't interested in dating stalking creeps, genius.

      If you want to meet women who are interested in dating, join a dating site.
      Alex A
      • That's the most nonsensical thing I read here

        If you are interested in finding a woman you simply go where women are. There is no difference if you find those locations using "traditional" methods or through an app. Now, if "creeps" use such kind of information for stalking, then it won't matter if they find the woman through traditional means, an app, or through a dating site

        What's next? That after joining a dating website too many "creeps" start stalking women they meet there, we will have to shut all dating websites, genius?
        markbn
    • I think you ought to take Violet's advice.

      Girls don't like it.
      peter_erskine@...
  • cyberstalking

    I think the okcupid mobile app does something similar, actually :-/
    honeyryder512
  • they also made on for....

    there is also one for gay men that works exactly the same way, brought to light in an earlier article here at zdnet. You don't hear those men complaining now do you?
    Nate_K
    • I'm guessing you missed the parts of the article that stated...

      -"Gay male app Grindr sells itself as a hookup app - successfully - yet the app is a two-way handshake of informed consent about the exchange of personally identifying information and location. Big difference."

      And regarding the Girls Around Me App....

      -"The targeted individuals are unaware they are being tracked and do not have the ability to opt-in - or opt-out."

      -"The women don???t get notifications of any kind - let alone equal information about who is tracking them, making the app???s use an undisputed power-over situation."

      -"The girls have no idea they???re being scanned or that their publicly available Facebook and Foursquare data is being loaded into some dude???s phone app."
      8bitbeatmaster
  • /rolleyes

    When I was a teenager my peers and I would all hang out at the local park in the evenings and on weekends. We'd stroll around looking for possible mates. When we spotted one that attracted us we would start questioning other people for info about them that would help us approach them and make a successful introdution that would hopefully lead to sex.

    Now that people all hang out on the internet and we have little recourse but to use technology for this same goal, it's called stalking?
    Sqrly
    • good lord that is the most clueless thing I've seen posted in a while...

      There's a huge difference between those two situations, and I bet even you know that, if you think it through. In your scenario, the activities are not ANONYMOUS. Someone questions someone else face to face. If someone later turned out to be a wack-job, it meant someone saw their face and knew they were asking about the girl. Also, the person being questioned in your scenario knows the girl and can provide at least SOME level of judgement about the potential hookup as well, and would always have the opportunity to tell the girl something like "hey, this sleazy guy was asking about you".

      Getting information to follow some girl without that social layer is a disaster waiting to happen. Nobody sees the stalker. Nobody can make a judgement if this person is someone the girl might really be interested in, or if they seem stable, normal and sane. It potentially boils down to some slimeball lurking in the background waiting for a hot girl to walk down a deserted street alone. You don't see what's WRONG with that? Are you insane? Sure, someone could just spot some hot girl on the street and follow her without the technology, but this is expanding their opportunity to find targets.
      Snark Shark
  • All the info is already there..

    This app does not change that. Anyone with a little tech know-how can still do the sme thing. Even scarier is thet the government can do much more in the way of tracking.
    candide08
  • Stalker app Girls Around Me hunts women via Facebook, Foursquare

    The developer used APIs and code that was available to him, he found a loophole in the system, didn't break any laws while doing it, I say good for him for being creative. The problem seems to be more with FourSquare and Facebook allowing this kind of access.
    Loverock Davidson-
    • Y'know...

      Y'know, I've seen your posts for quite a while, and usually think you're just sad, but now you disgust me. You think it's just fine for someone to stalk a woman, as long as her profile's on Facebook. Congrats, you've gone from an annoyance to sick and depraved.
      AmraLeo
  • Mothers don't let your babies grow up to be....

    ...people who post their personal/private data on the public web. I never could quite figure the fascination with posting your private information on a web site. Oh that's right, only my "friends" can see it right? So if you didn't see a reason to keep your private data private before, anyone seeing the lite now?
    cornpie
  • Logical Extension of Business

    The development is simply a logical extension of abuse of private information by business and government. As long as Facebook, the DMV, the credit bureaus, and so on, have no liability for the accuracy of their databases, and have no restriction (other than self-imposed) on who they sell their data (accurate or not) about YOU to, this type of thing is to be expected.

    To maintain their "free" service, Facebook must sell their data. It looks like poor programming by Facebook to allow free use of their data by unauthorized users.
    thinking about consequences
  • "Violet Blue" ???

    i think your pseudonym suits a teenage forum, and your picture suits a fetish website. this is a 'tech' website and your thoughts and opinions are contemptible if you lack the common sense and sensibility to respect the tastes of (at least a number of) people who subscribe to such a website.
    runnerup
    • And your pseudonym

      marks you as someone who can never manage to succeed. And your picture makes you seem like a firing range target.
      What exactly is your point?
      No one is forcing you to click through to the article.
      More importantly, who the hell do you think you are to speak for the sensibility and tastes of the people who subscribe? I for one find her columns a bit pedestrian. Been there done that most of the time. That its shocks you says more about your own sheltered mind than about that of the author.
      Or do you claim that as long as "at least a number" (and what number would that be pray tell? One?) of people don't like the subject matter of a particular author, that person should not be writing a column. Welcome to the lowest common denominator.

      As to this being a tech blog, first, clearly you are new here. But more importantly, if you can't see the link to tech, you, sir, are an idiot.
      .DeusExMachina.
      • Re: And your pseudonym

        i try not to take the low road (like you) and instead of calling you names (as just you did) civilly communicate.

        i think you need to learn if someone criticizes something, you need to either shut your mouth or just answer to those criticisms. no one has talked on behalf of all the people who subscribe, and even if one person has different tastes from everyone else who subscribes here, he can still speak his mind on behalf of his 'one' self. someone like you is not allowed to bash and call that person names only because you think he is only one guy.

        now if you have any rational explanation that "Violet Blue" is professional pseudonym here or that picture of the writer suits here i would be happy to read.

        if you don't have anything rational to say, or just have a different taste from mine, you don't have to say anything, and you are not allowed to bash and belittle someone who thinks different from you, so please do your best to act civil and shut your mouth.

        thanks
        runnerup
      • Hypocrisy

        What a hypocrite!
        You call a person out on their handle. So someone returns the favour. And you claim it was then "taking the low road"?!? Buddy, as the person who started down that path, you are not in a position to criticize others for following you!

        More importantly, you were not just speaking your mind. You were claiming that the "thoughts and opinions" of the author were "contemptible" and that they lacked the common sense to respect the lowest common denominator (as dictated by you) and not offend them.

        People who read her blog know her subject matter, and read it with this knowledge. If you don't like it, don't read it. Most people here I doubt need you keeping the net clean for them.
        As for your internet tough guy routine, first, you can shut up yourself. No one asked you to police the net for them, and no one seems to be seconding your call. Second, I addressed your point head on. Maybe if you were less concerned with speaking for other people and more concerned with logical discourse, you might have noticed.

        More to the point, as her column is about the intersection of sex and tech, there is nothing inappropriate about either her column, here nom de plume, or her picture.
        That you seem to think that it is your role to dictate relevancy due to your own megalomania does not mean others need to respect that.

        As for that last diatribe, YOU MONUMENTAL HYPOCRITE!!!!! Take your own advice! Instead of belittling the author because YOU don't like her subject matter, and have issue with her appearance and choice of appellation, does not give you the floor to start hurling invective and generally being an ass.

        Instead, you can do your best to be civil and shut your mouth.
        .DeusExMachina.