Girls Around Me App Highlights Privacy Issues


If you haven’t heard about the app Girls Around Me, be prepared to go and take a long look at your social media privacy settings.

Girls Around Me was a little app that used Facebook and Foursquare to create a map of men and women in the user’s city. Using locations posted publicly in Foursquare, linked to public Facebook profiles, Girls Around Me users could see who was nearby and view that person’s Facebook info.

From the app’s website, “Girls Around Me scans your surroundings and helps you find out where girls or guys are hanging out. You can also see the ratio of girls to guys in different places around you. Use it to see where hot girls and guys are hanging out in your area, view their photos and make contact!”

Nicknamed “the creepy stalker app,” attention was first brought to it by John Brownlee in an article for Cult of the Mac. Within 24 hours the app had been removed from the iOS App Store. A firestorm of discussion about apps and social networking privacy has ensued.

While the “creepy factor” is definitely high with this app, they have not broken any laws. They aggregate information a social media user has chosen to make publicly available and use it in a new way. One journalist argues this is how the social media app system works, “Some people out there get an idea for something that the main services had never thought of and they build it out of whatever data is available.”  Sometimes you get applications that are fantastic, some not.

While arguments abound over how, who and why this app was allowed to happen, reality is, there are hundreds of thousands of apps published every year. An application with functionality that makes us uncomfortable is bound to happen – and will undoubtedly happen again.

What has garnered much attention from a sensationalistic story, is privacy settings. Privacy settings on social media like Foursquare and Facebook use an “opt out” model. If you don’t “opt out” – specifically tell the application not to share your information – it automatically defaults to a public setting.

Navigating security settings on Facebook can be akin to building a perpetual motion machine. In another post, John Brownlee points out, “Their privacy settings are so complicated that when Cult of Mac’s own Charlie Sorrel wrote a guide earlier today about how to tweak their location-based settings, it took him half an hour of searching to find them. He described Facebook’s privacy settings as labyrinthine, and even if you know your way around them now, chances are they’ll be different next week: Facebook changes their privacy settings so often (and with so little explanation and fanfare) it’s almost impossible to keep track of what they are sharing about your life by default now.” And most social media users don’t realize this is how it works.

Girls Around Me was a very questionable app but good has come from it. This app has highlighted the need for each individual to examine the privacy settings in the social media they use and enact a level of security they are comfortable with. As tech journalist Molly Wood said, “…as a matter of law you can’t choose to hide information that’s public, which is primarily what identity services are scraping. You can choose what you publish on Facebook or Foursquare, and more importantly, you can choose what’s public. So start choosing–actively, consciously, and responsibly.”

And then stay on top of it.

A recent PEW study examined privacy settings who uses them and to what degree. Some of the study has been assembled into the infographic below, along with some easy to follow safety tips. Where do you fit in?



Image source: The Blaze

Inforgraphic source: Mashable