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.