High Tech Stalking

It seems there’s an ap for that.  It’s called Girls All Around Me and the details as explained by the site Cult of Mac are chilling reminders of the dark side of social media.  The functionality of the ap depends on how open your settings are on Foursquare and Facebook.

“So let’s say I’m a bro, looking to go out for a night on the town and pick someone up. Let’s say I’m going to the Independent around the corner, and checking it out ahead of time, I really like the look of this girl Zoe — she looks like a girl I might want to try to get with tonight — so I tap her picture for more information, see what I can find out about here.”

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.

“Okay, so here’s Zoe. Most of her information is visible, so 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.”

“All of that is visible on Facebook?” one of the other girls in our group asked.

“More, depending on how your privacy settings are configured! For example, I can also look at Zoe’s pictures.”

I tapped on the photo album, and a collection of hundreds of publicly visible photos loaded up. I quickly browsed them.

“Okay, so it looks like Zoe is my kind of girl. From her photo albums, I can see that she likes to party, and given the number of guys she takes photos with at bars and clubs at night, I can deduce that she’s frisky when she’s drunk, and her favorite drink is a frosty margarita. She appears to have recently been in Rome. Also, since her photo album contains pictures she took at the beach, I now know what Zoe looks like in a bikini… which, as it happens, is pretty damn good.”

My girlfriend scowled at me. I assured her Zoe in a bikini was no comparison, and moved on.

“So now I know everything to know about Zoe. I know where she is. I know what she looks like, both clothed and mostly disrobed. I know her full name, her parents’ full names, her brother’s full name. I know what she likes to drink. I know where she went to school. I know what she likes and dislikes. All I need to do now is go down to the Independent, ask her if she remembers me from Stoneham High, ask her how her brother Mike is doing, buy her a frosty margarita, and start waxing eloquently about that beautiful summer I spent in Roma.”

Author John Brownlee calls this a “creepy ap”.  I’d say it’s dangerous.  I think about all that information out there on youngest daughter’s Facebook and then consider she’s smack dab in the middle of a university campus and its student slums 24-7.   My mother’s radar is off the scale.

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.

Fortunately, an update to this piece shows that FourSquare actually read it and stopped the access to the ap.  However, it should serve as a cautionary tale about checking exactly what your social media sites are sharing with other vendors.  As the mother of daughters,  I’m going to go wicked crazy making sure their privacy settings are set to kill.

16 Comments on “High Tech Stalking”

  1. gotta get off the ‘puter… drive by thanking you for writing up this creepy ass development! we live in a bizzaro world where our Electeds worry about “protecting” zygotes instead of protecting living breathing children…

    • joanelle says:

      You’ve got that right, Wonk!

    • dakinikat says:

      I couldn’t believe this when I read it. Youngest daughter’s pics are all over facebook and her place of work, school, etc.

      • bostonboomer says:

        I have to admit, I’m really shocked. This could lead to people being targeted for rape or murder. There must be some way to regulate this kind of thing.

      • Tim says:

        I agree with BB and instead of regulation when setting up FB, Twitter, your cell phone, it should be that you opt in to have less privacy, which definitely isn’t the case at the moment.

        The problem is that most of us have these wonderful services and devices that tell people where we are, but few of us know how to set them up properly so that they don’t.

        All I could think of when I read this article is “How do we begin to covet, Clarice?” Well Dr Lecter, now there’s an app for that.

  2. joanelle says:

    A year or so ago I set up a Facebook account – within 24 hours I had so many contacts wanting to “friend” me – many whom I didn’t know – that I closed down my account.
    Fortunately I have many friends whom I prefer to chat with face-to-face when I can or on the tele or email if distance prevents that.

    I find the term “social network” and oxymoron – there really is very little “social” about it. And this kind of ‘ap’ is truly dangerous – really scary.

    Thanks for this Kat – I’d like to share it, if I may.

  3. propertius says:

    I don’t Facebook.

    I don’t Twit ( 😉 ).

    If you’re not paying for the product, then you are the product.

    • NW Luna says:

      No FB or T here either. Easy enough to stalk someone back in the old pre-Net days. I don’t want to make it any easier.

      • dakinikat says:

        I googled myself and my address is on the 4th link. Not hard to find or stalk me. I thought I’d get just research articles and such. Nope. Much more than that.

      • propertius says:

        I saw your student evals 😉

        The total collapse of Western Civilization is looking better all the time.

  4. quixote says:

    I saw that article and made the mistake of starting to read the comments. “Whatsaproblem?” “It’s just fun!” “If you’re stupid about settings, that’s *your* problem.” “But censorship!”

    And so on and on and on and on. I couldn’t get past the first dozen or so.

    There were a couple of people making the point that women are human beings, not restaurants.

    The saddest thing is the guys don’t remotely get it unless they care about a specific woman who is very freaked out. It reminds me of a post I read pointing out that English teachers often assign a paper to be written from the point of view of the opposite gender. Girls get right down to it, having obviously thought about it before. Boys either refuse to even try (because cooties?) or are completely clueless, having never imagined such an outlandish perspective. Or the short essay in an evening class where an instructor asks students to write about the precautions they’ll take when going home. Girls: cover both sides of the page. Boys: “Precautions? What precautions? Why?”

    Rape culture is going to keep looking “funnier” until those boneheads are confined to simulators with full-surround sensory effects in which they have to live a woman’s life. It’s not that hard to feel for people, unless you’re really trying not to.

    And the women don’t seem to really articulate to themselves that the horrible part is being meat. They think the feeling of revulsion and fury is … what? … “creepy,” fear of stalking. That’s part of it, but only part. A small part. The soul-destroying part is knowing that someone’s put you down as a bag of goodies on a map and it’s A-OK. It’s funny.

    Until that last part changes, cancelling one app is a drop in the cesspool.

    • HT says:

      Couldn’t agree with you more. My own son who I raised as a single parent gets antsy every time I raise objections to the objectivation of females as “meat”. Somedays I cannot believe I raised him. Usually he’s quite cognizant of the issues that females have to live with, but there are days when he just doesn’t get it. I can’t blame myself – because I made sure both he and his sister had an education in human dynamics, so it comes as an unusually nasty surprise when he shrugs his shoulders and “meehs” my concerns. The advertising and PR is strong is this one.

    • northwestrain says:

      Most males are completely clueless about the female point of view — even guys who aren’t misogynistic still do NOT get it. The only guys who really understand are a few gay guys — and that’s because they’ve had the treatment from “macho” males.

      Like driving — I’m always aware of being followed. I plan ahead in case I have to do some evasive driving due to &*&^%^& males. It happened years ago when I had to return home from night classes at the University –driving through some of the rougher urban areas.

      In Reading novels — most female authors can write from a male’s point of view — and most male authors cannot get it right EVER. I’m at the point where I rarely read novels by males — because they simply do not know any real living females or bother to spend enough time with females to understand how we see and try to survive in an extreme patriarchal culture

    • Interesting that 2 of you mentioned women as “meat.” I’m a big fan of Carol Adams, who is an ecofeminist author. Her first book was The Sexual Politics of Meat. I discovered today that she has another book, The Pornography of Meat, which I ordered today.

      It’s only those who have lived with subjugation that understand. I found it interesting in many of the discussions on MSNBC & NPR about the murder of Trayvon Martin that many mothers spoke about “the talk” they repeatedly had with their sons. And some young black men were interviewed & related stories about being in car with a white friend driving. They were surprised and scared by how their white friend talked back to the cop that pulled him over. They couldn’t believe the white kid wasn’t intimidated and didn’t avert his eyes or act extremely polite. It’s about privilege, but it a white boy’s/man’s club only.

      BTW, dak, thanks for the post. I shared it with some friends who have daughters.