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"And with millions of chicks checking in daily, there's never been a better time to be on the hunt...."
March 31, 2012 8:27 AM   Subscribe

A column by John Brownlee over at Cult of Mac yesterday highlighted his privacy concerns about the app Girls Around Me -- which used a mashup of FourSquare check-ins, Google Maps and Facebook public profile information to show the user women who were nearby. In response to the story, Foursquare cut off the app's API access to their data, effectively knocking it out of commission. CNET: How to prevent friends checking you into locations at Facebook Places.

Further coverage: Bits Blog (NYT), ZDNet, Technolog (MSNBC), PC Mag.
posted by zarq (99 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
From the PC Mag article:
The meat of Brownlee's piece isn't so much the nuts-and-bolts of how Girls Around Me works, but what seeing it in action meant to women who might have been concerned about online privacy in a theoretical way but had probably never seen in such plain terms what telling the Internet everything about yourself, down to your actual physical location, really means.

posted by zarq at 8:28 AM on March 31, 2012 [4 favorites]


Facebook needed to respond to this article yesterday. I'd say shame on Facebook, but they are pretty shameless, aren't they?
posted by Catblack at 8:35 AM on March 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


Damn you, I was just about to submit this.

Mefi's own cstross has written about this app too.

Me, I'm holding out for the "Guys Who Use 'Girls Around Me' Around me" app.
posted by ymgve at 8:36 AM on March 31, 2012 [18 favorites]


Yeah, I can see the problems with this. It's entirely something different from Grindr, where the members are basically volunteering to be location-revealed to other members who are on the hunt, so to speak. This takes completely unwitting participants and puts them in a rather odd position -- that of being tracked in a manner they weren't intending when they signed up for a service.

It's a pretty good example of the ways privacy and internet participation can be at odds, and I think it's good that it has been brought forward. I just wonder if people are really listening when things like this happen, or if they'll continue on with their blind participation and surrender of anything approaching public anonymity.
posted by hippybear at 8:41 AM on March 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sorry ymgve. That's an excellent post by Charlie. Thanks for linking to it.
posted by zarq at 8:42 AM on March 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm not a person overly concerned about privacy, but this pretty much confirms my first reaction to Foursquare and Facebook Places: who'd be so fucking stupid to broadcast his location to the world? Plenty of people, as it turns out. Facebook Places is of course particularly evil in that it allows even your "friends" to share such information without your explicit consent.
posted by Skeptic at 8:50 AM on March 31, 2012 [6 favorites]


"I just wonder if people are really listening when things like this happen, or if they'll continue on with their blind participation and surrender of anything approaching public anonymity"

I'm guessing the latter.

I came across a post on facebook yesterday where someone announced her husband was out of state for a week. Which meant that not only did her hundreds of friends now know about it, but all the friends of friends who might have posted a response knew as well, thanks to facebook's idiotic sidebar that tells you what your friends posted on the walls of people you don't know.

I expect that, eventually, Mark Zuckerberg will just go house to house and paint targets on the foreheads of all of his Facebook members.
posted by HuronBob at 8:51 AM on March 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


Wasn't there an app called "Where Da Women At?" or something like that that did this previously?

This app is creepy.

Q: What do you call a successful stalker? A: A husband.

That joke is tasteless, but in some aspects it's always felt a bit true from the male dating side. You see a woman at the library or coffee shop. You make small talk. You arrange to run into her again. More talk. A number exchange. Talk on the phone. A deliberate meeting. A date. Dinner. Maybe back to your place, etc. The only difference between what is actually occurring and stalking is if both parties are consenting and aware. Don't get me wrong. That makes all the difference in the world.

No one likes rejection, and everyone is afraid of how they will be perceived in the dating realm. It makes it hard to do courting rituals.

When I hear the "charming" stories of how some couple meet many of them are downright creepy. "She kept coming by my work and wouldn't take no for an answer." "I wouldn't date him so he asked my sister out instead then I realized what a nice guy he was." "My mom made me go out with her." "We met in an online chatroom."

There's some serious creepiness going on here, but I guess it's more potentially creepy. Viewing the information of what women put out there is one thing. If it's being used to then arrange chance meetings all across town we're in the area of weird.

The graphic design of the app is also creepy. They look like hit targets to me. Something you'd get points for shooting. Like a hunting game.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:59 AM on March 31, 2012 [4 favorites]


On having a single identity.
posted by kenko at 9:03 AM on March 31, 2012 [5 favorites]


Man, cjorgensen, I certainly get how a dude --- even in theory, a quite normal one --- might look at this and see merely something that gives him a bit of an edge at getting a pretty girl to talk to him. But that's what's so creepy about it --- it destroys the balance, the exchange.

If you are not a total creepshow, and you approach a woman in public, she has a chance to say or nay and you're still even --- if she likes the look of you also, she can choose to continue the encounter. And if she doesn't she can decline to talk to you, and if you're not an asshole you'll withdraw, and if you are an asshole she finds that out now, and can escape. Now you have all that info and you can exploit it, and she doesn't have a fair chance to decide if you're a creep or not in increments. It is the creepy people who will want to use this most desperately...just, gaaaah. Brrr.
posted by Diablevert at 9:11 AM on March 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


When I hear the "charming" stories of how some couple meet many of them are downright creepy. "She kept coming by my work and wouldn't take no for an answer." "I wouldn't date him so he asked my sister out instead then I realized what a nice guy he was." "My mom made me go out with her." "We met in an online chatroom."

Not to mention when romantic comedies or just romance movies show people meeting. They almost never start as people who knew each other a long time as friends, it's more like the above, seeing them at a random place, chance meeting, etc. So it's drilled into men and boys that you will find your love of the life randomly places. Heck, i would lose count of my friends who are married that met those ways. The rest met through friends or at a club. For a shy guy like me, the thought of going up to a random person and flirting with them, no matter how attracted i was, is terrifying. I also don't get the idea of finding out there are woman near you, half the population are women, so of course there are, but you'd have almost nothing in common with them. Although i also don't get stalkers and stalking. So there is that.
posted by usagizero at 9:12 AM on March 31, 2012 [4 favorites]


We met in an online chatroom.

One of these things is not like the others. An AOL chatroom (are those things still around?) or an IRC channel would not be my first choice for looking for dates, but I don't see the creepiness about it.

There's an app or two, which is fully opt-in, like this for gay men. Can't remember the name of them.

I wonder if a completely opt-in app for heteros, maybe in conjunction with one of the popular dating sites, would work.
posted by honestcoyote at 9:12 AM on March 31, 2012


You see a woman at the library or coffee shop. You make small talk. You arrange to run into her again. More talk. A number exchange. Talk on the phone. A deliberate meeting. A date. Dinner. Maybe back to your place, etc.

That's how it's done?
posted by The Hamms Bear at 9:13 AM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter: doesn't have a fair chance to decide if you're a creep or not in increments.
posted by hippybear at 9:13 AM on March 31, 2012


This app is creepy. It is also inevitable. This is the future, where aggregates of innocuous information destroy any conventional understanding of privacy. The younger you are, the less likely it is to bother you.
posted by Nelson at 9:14 AM on March 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


As I said to my husband (who I met through a friend in college) when he mentioned the first Cult of Mac article: Women are not chattel; proximity is not sexual availability; that a person, even a person of the woman sort, is being public in a public space gives no-one any rights to her.
posted by crush-onastick at 9:15 AM on March 31, 2012 [27 favorites]


There's an app or two, which is fully opt-in, like this for gay men. Can't remember the name of them.

Grindr, Scruff, u4Bear, and Jack'd are all on my iDevices.

Blendr is the one for heterosexuals.
posted by hippybear at 9:15 AM on March 31, 2012 [4 favorites]


The younger you are, the less likely it is to bother you.

That's not true; that's a lie old people tell themselves.
posted by Diablevert at 9:16 AM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


The wife of a guy my wife hangs out with absolutely requires him to have location services running on his phone and tracks him everywhere he goes.

It strikes me as bizarre and ... possessive. Different strokes, I guess.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:18 AM on March 31, 2012 [4 favorites]


Ooops. dropped the "Good for 4Square" from my comment. 4Square isn't position as a dating app/dating network--it's positioned as a "one-up your fiends with the cool places you go" app. It absolutely violates the trust of users to turn it into a creepy stalker app.

Nelson, if more people accept--like 4Square did--that there is too great a potential for abuse and that this sort of use is not compatible with a society we want, then no, it's not inevitable.
posted by crush-onastick at 9:21 AM on March 31, 2012


I'd argue that this app is less like "going to buy a latte when you know that cute barista will be working" and more like "sitting across the street with a pair of binoculars when you know that cute barista will be working."

In the 'traditional' dating moves that cjorgensen is talking about, there's still potential for a whole lot of creepiness. But they aren't necessarily creepy. In particular, they aren't creepy if the pursue-ee knows what's going on and has a chance to say "no," and the pursuer is willing to take "no" for an answer.

If someone keeps showing up where I work and chatting with me, I know what they're up to. I'm free to send them nonverbal signals that say "cut it out." Hell, assuming my boss isn't a total insensitive idiot, I'm also free to tell them flat out "stop bothering me or I'm going to bar you from the premises." If they're watching for those signals of disinterest, and are willing to stop when it's clear that I want them to stop, then I'd argue there's nothing wrong with the whole thing. It only becomes creepy when someone makes it obvious that they don't give two shits about whether I want to see them or not.

Part of what makes this app creepy, then, is that there's no room for any of that informed consent stuff. You don't know who's tracking your location, or when. You don't get a chance to tell them to back off. You don't get a chance to convey anything at all to them, because you don't know that they're there. You can't do the equivalent of calling a bouncer on a guy who won't leave you alone. That means that nobody who's genuinely interested in your feelings is going to use it. The whole thing is inherently and unavoidably creepy, and the only sane response is to just lock down all your privacy settings and opt out of the whole clusterfuck.

Also, I think cjorgensen must move in different circles than me. I don't know anyone who actually met through that sort of hyper-persistent romantic comedy bullshit, where it all hinges on the guy not taking "no" for an answer. The couples I know, at most it's "she obviously really enjoyed it when I'd stop by her work to chat, so I kept doing it." I don't think I'm a prude or an idealist on this point. I just seriously don't have any friends in real life who have had any success at the whole rom com dating shtick.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:27 AM on March 31, 2012 [10 favorites]


This app is creepy. It is also inevitable. This is the future, where aggregates of innocuous information destroy any conventional understanding of privacy.

This is a annoyingly simplistic, defeatist viewpoint. Read cstross about why this data is there for the grabbing in the first place, if you don't already realize. It's not because in 2012 every girl out there is desperate to share her headshot and current lat/lon with 7 billion people

Me, I'm holding out for the "Guys Who Use 'Girls Around Me' Around me" app.

Except that won't happen, because this is an app made for creepy stalkers, not an app made to lure creepy stalkers into sharing a constant stream of personal information so they can be delivered targeted creepy stalker advertising and used as lobster bait for their friends
posted by crayz at 9:27 AM on March 31, 2012


Just wait until more and more of your stuff in online. You'll have your fridge and your toaster tattling on you in the name of a value added service.
posted by codacorolla at 9:29 AM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


crayz: I agree 100% that the inevitability of privacy destruction is annoying. But the sooner we accept the reality of digital data, the sooner we can start setting up societal structures to deal with it. Thanks for linking cstross' essay; it's very insightful. I agree with the conclusion is "the problem is the deployment by profit-oriented corporations of behavioural psychology techniques". I just have a dismal belief that nothing's going to stop those profit oriented corporations. They're too useful, too powerful, and too popular to just be legislated out of existence. Try asking European lawmakers who are fighting a losing, retreating battle for individual privacy.

Put another way: sharing information is useful. It is a good thing that my photos from my camera now include GPS coordinates. It is a good thing that Google tracks my search history and can produce custom results for me. It is a good thing that FourSquare lets me share my visits to clubs and bars with my friends. These applications are all useful, and good, and very popular.

The problem is that when you collect each of these innocuous bits of data, extract them out of the poor privacy / limited sharing sieve, the resulting aggregate is dangerous and creepy. That is a basic fact of personal data in the digital age. It is as true as "information wants to be free", another obnoxious and inevitable fact about the digital age. The problem is what we do about it.
posted by Nelson at 9:48 AM on March 31, 2012


Blendr is the one for heterosexuals.

Damnit, I was wondering why all my 3D model renders were coming back as porn.
posted by kmz at 9:52 AM on March 31, 2012 [5 favorites]


The "Duh factor" is very high.

Internet use and privacy are inversely proportioned, no?

If online banking might be analogous to putting a tattoo on your butt, using Facebook would be like putting the tattoo on your forehead.
posted by mule98J at 9:59 AM on March 31, 2012


Wasn't there an app called "Where Da Women At?" or something like that that did this previously?
That would be Where the ladies at — it seems like a little less of an invasion of privacy than GAM, given that WTLA just points you to places that the titular ladies have checked in at. No pictures, no links to Facebook profiles. I'm not even sure where it pulls its data from. But still, same general idea.
posted by scottjacksonx at 10:00 AM on March 31, 2012


They bought their tickets, they knew what they were getting into. I say let em crash.
posted by casual observer at 10:03 AM on March 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've really tried to get my friends and relatives to quit with the Facebook stuff. For a while, I touted Google+ as an alternative, and while I still like it, now they're pushing me to "connect all your blogs, etc. to your Google+ account". I object in principle to that. Sometimes I choose to divulge less or more about myself in a given context, and I reserve the right to do that.

For instance, I have my own name on my blog, but I only refer to my kids by nicks we don't use anywhere else. I don't even put pics of them up on the blog very often, and not at all when they were younger.

This isn't because I see child molesters around every corner, but because I think everyone has a basic right to privacy. It just felt wrong for me to put them out there on the internet for everyone to see when they had no say in it.

Obviously, I agree with those in the thread that think it is crazy to share all your personal information on the internet. What I've found among the younger generation, though, is that they often use their real names on email accounts and websites because they've grown up with the technology. For them it's on par with having a listed number in the phone book. They like to be easy to find because they want to socialize with their friends, text each other and play videogames online.

This will very likely change when they start looking for careers, or have credit cards, medical records and bill payments, and find some information is better kept private.

In the meantime, I'm really glad this app was effectively nullified by Foursquare. Targeting single women without their knowledge to try to hook up with a stranger is really creepy. It reminds me of the official-looking notices from the "Canadian Lottery" we discovered my grandfather had "bought tickets" from before he died, or the tearful televangelist that moved my 94 year-old grandmother on a fixed income to donate to his "cause".

It feels like taking advantage of people's naivete in a really scummy way.
posted by misha at 10:06 AM on March 31, 2012 [4 favorites]


Internet use and privacy are inversely proportioned, no?

Not inherently. Most of the stuff I've done on the Internet is private. It's mostly soulless marketers and Stalin-wannabes driving that train.
posted by polyhedron at 10:09 AM on March 31, 2012


There's a weird problem here with people thinking it's only an issue for people who are stupid enough to use the services, and that those people should know better and have--full stop--made a bad decision and should be stalked, taken advantage of, and harassed for having the temerity to use new technologies before they can fully be protected from the negative consequences.

But the people using the services are just being in public and social. Those are actual Public Goods, public behavior that invites the society of others. That's how we build communities; that's how small businesses establish presence; that's how people construct lives which have meaningful human relationships in them.

Obviously, there are issues with using geolocation and social networks and social apps to record every step you make and then share it with your friends, strangers and dataminers. But the existence of these issues does not mean that using these tools to facilitate human interaction must mean facilitating, encouraging and permitting stalking or harassment or unethical (or, frankly, just creepy) business uses and commodification of people's movements through public spaces, whether they choose to record, broadcast to a limited audience, or broadcast to an unlimited audience those movements.

Clearly, thinking of this as "Privacy" and "Non-privacy" like we did back when your phone number was either in the phone book or not, either listed your address or not, is insufficient.
posted by crush-onastick at 10:19 AM on March 31, 2012 [7 favorites]


Internet use and privacy are inversely proportioned, no?

If online banking might be analogous to putting a tattoo on your butt, using Facebook would be like putting the tattoo on your forehead.


No, not at all. For starters, Facebook is not the internet. It's a part of the internet. You don't have to use it, or indeed ANY social networking services to be on the internet and get good, full use out of it. MetaFilter is the closest thing I get to participating in social networking, and while I reveal quite a bit about myself here via my posts, comments, and profile, I don't feel like I'm opening myself up to tracking via apps like the one mentioned in this FPP.

Sure, more nefarious types could be datamining for my IP and somehow learning more about me through their mad haxxor skills, but anyone who is that determined to know about me would be applying their skills in other ways if the internet weren't involved. (And I'm not narcissistic or paranoid enough to think anyone is actually doing that.)

Back in the day, people actually had their names and address published in the phone book for anyone to see. But that was a far cry from what social networking allows as far as intrusion into one's life.
posted by hippybear at 10:28 AM on March 31, 2012 [6 favorites]


If the app were called "People around me" it would be praised for its cleverness.

> But that's what's so creepy about it --- it destroys the balance, the exchange.

It's funny how people only whine about equality in the dating game when its the ugly people who discover an advantage over the pretty people.

Obsessive nerds have one skill, and to deny them that is systematic discrimination.
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 10:29 AM on March 31, 2012 [4 favorites]


Obsessive nerds have one skill, and to deny them that is systematic discrimination.

Oh look, a PUA fan. Other people are not objects for "obsessive nerds" to play with.

(And as an ugly nerd, I resent your implications.)
posted by kmz at 10:41 AM on March 31, 2012 [23 favorites]


It's funny how people only whine about equality in the dating game when its the ugly people who discover an advantage over the pretty people.

I beg your fucking pardon? I don't see anything about this that has to do with pretty vs ugly. This is 100% about "Men being able to stalk women." Pretty men can use it too, and "ugly" women are put in no less danger than their conventionally-attractive counterparts.

Stalking is not a competitive advantage in the dog-eat-dog world of romance-seeking. It's an antisocial unethical violation of people's rights as human goddamn beings.

Obsessive nerds have one skill, and to deny them that is systematic discrimination.

I honestly have no idea what you're saying here, but I have a suspicious feeling it creeps me out a lot.
posted by Tomorrowful at 10:59 AM on March 31, 2012 [9 favorites]


Hang on, I just have to update my "Non-Useless People Working for Cult of Mac" list to include two people.
posted by subbes at 11:01 AM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


> Other people are not objects for "obsessive nerds" to play with.

The millions of people on Ok Cupid would say otherwise, or would if they actually understood what they had done by putting their information there.

All this does it put the information you've already disclosed to the entire world in the context of a dating website, and done so in a way that is actually useful for those doing what socially adept single people do on a friday night. It is of no use to a hideous basement dweller like myself.

But no, let's moral panic about information asymmetry, because it helps ugly guys trick hot women into thinking they have things in common, the way Liz Lemon tricked that doctor who looks like a cartoon pilot.

(And really, objects? If people aren't objects, why do they care so much about what they look like?)
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 11:03 AM on March 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ever since I started reading the making-fun-of-misogyny blog Man Boobz (discovered here on metafilter) I have had that thing where suddenly you notice stuff that was in front of you all along, with Mens Rights/PUA types. It has been a little distressing to notice how many more people are angry at ladies than I initially would have thought.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 11:05 AM on March 31, 2012 [15 favorites]


"MetaFilter is the closest thing I get to participating in social networking, and while I reveal quite a bit about myself here via my posts, comments, and profile, I don't feel like I'm opening myself up to tracking via apps like the one mentioned in this FPP."

Good point, hippybear. I wasn't justifying the stalker by using the victim's naivete. I hope I'm not delusional in thinking that the MeFi venue is different from Facebook.

I grew up thinking of privacy as my default situation: I am an old fart, and I got my social security number along with my work permit when I was fourteen years old. I have given up the "off the grid" version of privacy. Nowadays I think of privacy more like the anonymity enjoyed by a member of the herd. It's a useful metaphor, in that I'm pretty sure they couldn't care less about me as an individual, only that I fit into some Brownian pattern of consumerism that interests them.

Anyhow, I try to keep my tattoos, as it were, in places where the casual surfer can't see them, but I do understand that there are folks out there that make a career out of pulling people's pants down.
posted by mule98J at 11:14 AM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is pretty much exactly why I won't use foursquare, and why some of the people in my life won't use Facebook despite considerable social pressure to do so (such as people in their social circles using FB to organize events, some blogs using it as a comment system, etc.). Something about publicly declaring where I am in order to get some notional badge or title (or at most a token prize if it's a business) struck me as being very Brave New World-ish, in that a potential loss of privacy was being disguised as a game. (Fitocracy uses the same type of social reinforcement, but I don't put it in the same class because I can register how long and far I've walked without being declared the mayor of [redacted] Avenue.)

WRT the similarity between rom-coms and straight up stalking: the obligatory Onion link. (The Onion also did something on foursquare, although they went for the "jeez, are we sick of reporting on social networking sites as if we care" angle instead of the inherently creepy nature of it. They did do this, however.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:29 AM on March 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


All this does it put the information you've already disclosed to the entire world in the context of a dating website,

...without your knowledge or consent. If you don't see a problem with that I don't know what to tell you.
posted by rtha at 11:42 AM on March 31, 2012 [7 favorites]


Why do you assume this application is necessarily for use by stalkers? What basis do you have for that other than fantasies concocted in your own mind?

I quoted a comment that assumed the application was used for its intended purpose, and somehow that makes me a defender of stalkers. You are precisely what I am ridiculing by calling this "discrimination". Or, to put it another way, neckbeards should not be victim to attractive, socially competent privilege.

Of course, what this application actually reminds me of what I read in some science fiction novel twenty years ago, when a guy at a party brought up a list of everyone around him in his magic inside-the-eyeball VR computer thing, and had dossiers from all their publicly available information. I thought it was cool then, and I think it is cool now.

It also reminds me of when Jamie Zawinski put social networking software into the only context that matters: "So I said, narrow the focus. Your "use case" should be, there's a 22 year old college student living in the dorms. How will this software get him laid?"

And of course it reminds me of when I first learned about Foursquare, and immediately predicted this application because it is a bleedingly obvious consequence of the stupid "share everything" ethos of the "web 2.0" movement. Why the fuck do you people only get angry about it when it someone finally spells it out for you and it helps a particular mundane boogeyman?

And do you think stalkers go shopping for victims online like they're planning on what to buy at Ikea? Are you people that fucking dense?

No, pick-up artists use the shotgun approach, and that is why you're all up in arms with the moral panic because now they have another angle over the girls who nonetheless like falling for their tricks.
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 12:02 PM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


...without your knowledge or consent. If you don't see a problem with that I don't know what to tell you.

Unfortunately, it is entirely WITH your consent, even if without your knowledge. It's all in print right here.

You may have clicked "I accept the terms and conditions" without reading it, but oh yes, you DID consent to this information being accessible to anyone with the means.
posted by chimaera at 12:19 PM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Unfortunately, it is entirely WITH your consent, even if without your knowledge. It's all in print right here.

I was specifically addressing 0xdeadc0de's point about putting your publicly available information "in the context of a dating website." That is not something that any facebook user has consented to just by ticking the ToS box, especially when implemented by a third-party app that the user didn't even tick a ToS box for.
posted by rtha at 12:27 PM on March 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


To properly extend my comment lest it be seen as being apologist for Facebook, I consider binding automatic terms to be innately offensive, and the default for all user protections should require opting IN to permit a site's use of your information, for each discrete type of content, rather than opting OUT.
posted by chimaera at 12:29 PM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why do you assume this application is necessarily for use by stalkers? What basis do you have for that other than fantasies concocted in your own mind?
It's not necessarily useful for someone stalking a specific person: the stalkee will probably take their privacy seriously anyway and not use services like this.

It's really for assholes/PUA types who want to annoy random women in an attempt to get laid.
Facebook needed to respond to this article yesterday. I'd say shame on Facebook, but they are pretty shameless, aren't they?
What should their response be? This is the kind of thing that Facebook's API is designed to do. If you publish your location all the time, then of course people will be able to know where you are.

Foursquare cut off API access, but really this app could be rewritten with any API key, unless they cut of all new developers, or try to monitor everything that's done with the apps that have access to the data there is nothing they can do to prevent it. You could probably even get the data by screen scraping, I'm not sure.

It's also different then an cellphone 'app market' style app. When you distribute an app to people's phones, you control what the app does. It sits on the users's phone and you can see exactly what it does. But with a web app, the code sits on someone's server. You can only allow or deny that server from accessing data. So they can change it, or a developer can have multiple versions of an app. One for the general public, and one for himself.
This takes completely unwitting participants and puts them in a rather odd position -- that of being tracked in a manner they weren't intending when they signed up for a service.
Not really. It's obvious that this kind of thing can be done with the data. The idea that you could randomly collect data on people and then give that data out for people to do whatever they want with it, means, essentially that people can do whatever they want with it.
I've really tried to get my friends and relatives to quit with the Facebook stuff. For a while, I touted Google+ as an alternative, and while I still like it, now they're pushing me to "connect all your blogs, etc. to your Google+ account". I object in principle to that. Sometimes I choose to divulge less or more about myself in a given context, and I reserve the right to do that.
I had a friend who downloaded the G+ app to her phone, and accepted the default to let it upload all the photos she took with said phone to G+ without realizing it. So, one day she does a google search and suddenly all the private photos she'd been taking on her phone came back (thanks to "search plus your world" or whatever). The photos were set to private, but she didn't know that. All she knew was that she'd done a google search for herself and personal photos she'd taken with her phone were what came back.
But the people using the services are just being in public and social. Those are actual Public Goods, public behavior that invites the society of others. That's how we build communities; that's how small businesses establish presence; that's how people construct lives which have meaningful human relationships in them.
Exactly. All these apps are designed by default to violate your privacy. They do it so they can get data, give you (and everyone else) a better "user experience" use it for marketing, or whatever else. People who aren't tech savvy have no idea what could potentially be done with the data.

It would be easy to design the apps to protect privacy first, Like, rather then associating people's Facebook stuff with 4square, they could have, you know not done that. They could have used a cartoon icon and nickname rather then a photo (like yahoo ask). You would probably know who they were, but random stalkers wouldn't be able to figure it out.
posted by delmoi at 12:32 PM on March 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


That is not something that any facebook user has consented to just by ticking the ToS box, especially when implemented by a third-party app that the user didn't even tick a ToS box for.

I'm going to have to disagree with you again. I'm not defending Facebook -- as a matter of fact I find its structure repugnant -- but if you look on your Privacy Settings page, anything that says "Everyone" has access means ANYONE has access. They may be misusing your information, but accessing your information which is set to "Everyone" via the API is no different than someone looking at your public info and copying it down.
posted by chimaera at 12:33 PM on March 31, 2012


They may be misusing your information

That is very much what I'm objecting to. I don't know how much clearer I can be.
posted by rtha at 12:37 PM on March 31, 2012


That is very much what I'm objecting to. I don't know how much clearer I can be.

I suspect we're in violent agreement here. The ToS basically says that anything you allow to be public information can be retrieved at any time by anyone from the Facebook system. If you have a Facebook account, you consented to this, in general.

The sticking point here is the difference between legal consent and informed consent. Facebook intentionally obfuscates and minimizes the implications of what your consent really means and because of articles like this (and app makers who take advantage of the system's ability to facilitate all sorts of horrible behavior), I hope everyone realizes the truism that, on Facebook (and Foursquare, and Pinterest, and OKCupid, and, and, and...) you are the product, not the customer.

These places only care enough about you to prevent you from just up and leaving, so they can continue to make money off of your information.
posted by chimaera at 12:45 PM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Basically, I think my point is this -- if you consider the app developer to be the ones entirely at fault here, you are missing the bigger picture. Think of all the people who are doing THIS EXACT THING but not making their actions public by making an app available.

The problem is that the default remains that you are required to opt-out rather than opt-in, on all of these services.
posted by chimaera at 12:47 PM on March 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


Anyway, the basic problem is sociopathic devs who treat people's personal information like a commodity. The Path social network is a good example. They figured if they grabbed users's personal phone book off the phone, they could "leverage" that data by telling people when their real-life friends signed up for Path.

Of course they didn't even bother to encrypt the data, anyone with a wifi sniffer nearby, anyone who might ever hack Path and of course anyone who worked at Path and had access to the server could have seen it.

The G+ pictures thing that freaked out my friend is another example. If you auto-upload everyone's pictures, it will be 'easier' for them to start using your social network. Nevermind that now all your photos will be visible to anyone who might know or guess your Google password, rather then just having physical access to your phone.

In other thread I got into a discussion with someone who was an iPhone developer and claimed the Path thing or apps being able to upload all your photos or contact lists was a "non issue". His explanation didn't make much sense to me but it sounded like he was saying that if you install an app for some "specific purpose" then you are essentially making a deal with the developer that they can take whatever data they want from you.

Like I said, it made no sense to me, because people didn't know that that data could be taken, much less that it would be taken.

And like a week after that those nude cellphone shots of Olivia Munn and Christina Hendricks came out, leaked by some 'hacker', not by someone they knew.

How did the "hacker" get the photos? Was it by hacking into some "cloud" app that had randomly uploaded the photos? Were they an insider in some company that did that? We have know way of knowing, but certainly neither of those two would have installed an app that would upload all the pictures they'd taken if they knew what would happen.

And that's the basic problem. Rather then protecting people's privacy if they don't understand, developers are taking advantage of those people in order to get their data (which they don't realize is leaking) in order to get some kind of advantage. Then lots of companies are happy to just give it out for anyone to take (or anyone with an API key)

It's really disgusting.

The principle should be informed consent. If people don't understand what's going on with the data, then that data should not be taken and not be distributed
but if you look on your Privacy Settings page, anything that says "Everyone" has access means ANYONE has access. They may be misusing your information, but accessing your information which is set to "Everyone" via the API is no different than someone looking at your public info and copying it down.
The problem is that this is actually a combination problem: Facebook and Foursquare data being combined in a way people might not anticipate. Although it does seem that with Foursquare it should be easy to anticipate, but not everyone will figure it out.
posted by delmoi at 12:47 PM on March 31, 2012 [5 favorites]


Other people are not objects for "obsessive nerds" to play with.
The millions of people on Ok Cupid would say otherwise, or would if they actually understood what they had done by putting their information there.

...

But no, let's moral panic about information asymmetry, because it helps ugly guys trick hot women into thinking they have things in common, the way Liz Lemon tricked that doctor who looks like a cartoon pilot.


1) This has nothing to do with OKCupid.
2) This has to do with foursquare
3) You can use OKCupid and be ok telling that site certain information without wanting everybody everywhere to be able to stalk you
4) I, for example, am on okcupid, but would be deeply creeped out if somebody who I didn't even know had an app that would tell them where I am.
5) Liz Lemon is not a real person
6) I cannot believe I'm even in a position where I'm writing things like "Liz Lemon is not a real person."
7) The issue here is not information asymmetry. It's involuntary, nonconsensual disclosure of information. The fact that it's asymmetrical is an aggravating factor, but not the core problem.
8) Please reread #5 on this list.
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:50 PM on March 31, 2012 [15 favorites]


7) The issue here is not information asymmetry. It's involuntary, nonconsensual disclosure of information. The fact that it's asymmetrical is an aggravating factor, but not the core problem.
There's "consent" but not informed consent. That's the problem.
posted by delmoi at 12:56 PM on March 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


delmoi: "His explanation didn't make much sense to me but it sounded like he was saying that if you install an app for some "specific purpose" then you are essentially making a deal with the developer that they can take whatever data they want from you. " is a really important point. Developers absolutely must internalize the idea that when people sign up with a service or install an app for a specific purpose (i.e., telling people I have chosen to connect with which restaurant I'm visiting for lunch today), they are emphatically not expecting developers or giving permission to developers to use that data for some other purpose (e.g., showing random guys who desperately feel they must be laid soon pictures of every woman within a ten block radius). You totally hit the nail on the head.
posted by crush-onastick at 1:02 PM on March 31, 2012


"The answer, as applied by the FTC in their new framework, is to let companies do standard data collection but require them to tell people when they are doing things with data that are inconsistent with the "context of the interaction" between a company and a person."

Contextual Privacy
posted by ifandonlyif at 1:13 PM on March 31, 2012


I suspect we're in violent agreement here.

Yes, I think we are! GRRR!!

It's been a while since I read facebook's ToS, and this section specifically leaves me with questions:

When you publish content or information using the Public setting, it means that you are allowing everyone, including people off of Facebook, to access and use that information, and to associate it with you (i.e., your name and profile picture).

Does that really mean that if you, say, post a photo of you cuddling your new kitten and that photo is visible to anyone, that your local New Kitten organization can legally use that photo, without your explicit permission, to advertise how awesome their New Kitten service is? Because my reading of that section is that yes, they can, and I'm wondering how facebook can grant permission to use your info in that way. Is this true? Is this a common thing?
posted by rtha at 1:22 PM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


That Contextual Privacy link is great, ifandonlyif.
Nissenbaum gets us past thinking about privacy as a binary: either something is private or something is public. Nissenbaum puts the context -- or social situation -- back into the equation. What you tell your bank, you might not tell your doctor. What you tell your friend, you might not tell your father-in-law. What you allow a next-door neighbor to know, you might not allow Google's Street View car to know. Furthermore, these differences in information sharing are not bad or good; they are just the norms.
This is the kind of thinking we need in the digital age. Not "hide all the bits", but rather "how do we enforce social norms for using bits". It's fine to correlate Foursquare data with Facebook data to do interesting, beneficial social applications. It's not OK to combine that data to creep on women.

Nissenbaum has a book. I've ordered a copy to put next to The Transparent Society on my bookshelf.
posted by Nelson at 1:27 PM on March 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


Does that really mean that if you, say, post a photo of you cuddling your new kitten and that photo is visible to anyone, that your local New Kitten organization can legally use that photo, without your explicit permission, to advertise how awesome their New Kitten service is?
No, it's not a copyright license, they can't use your photo/likeness for advertising purposes. What they're saying is that people can look at the pictures and, I guess, store then in a database. So they might use the photos for, say, a massive facial recognition system


(Speaking of advertising, though, I did just read an article the other day by someone who posed for their friends photo portfolio and ended up in an ad for a dating site -- here's the photo set)
posted by delmoi at 1:50 PM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


> 5) Liz Lemon is not a real person

Huh? But she did that awesome impression of Sarah Palin. Is she a character too?

So what you're explaining to me is that people are flipping their shit over a pick-up strategy that only works on television and romantic comedies?

Or are people are flipping their shit over Foursquare doing exactly what it says on the tin (publishing where you told it that you are) and Facebook doing exactly what it says on the tin (publishing that you're single, hot, and ready to party).

Actually, Facebook already has Foursquare-like functionality, so it isn't like people are completely ignorant that their identity and location can be correlated. A lot of people are doing it on purpose.

In fact, while we're gnashing our teeth over stalkers and pick-up artists and creepy guys who really shouldn't think they have a chance, I'm sure plenty of men and women have actually used this general application of technology to get laid, start relationships, marry where it is legal, and even have children by now.

I just hope the makers of this particular app are trolling, because it is fucking brilliant how it has gotten naive people to consider the consequences of Facebook.
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 1:57 PM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Huh? But she did that awesome impression of Sarah Palin. Is she a character too?

Liz Lemon is a fictional character played by a real person called Tina Fey.
posted by Tomorrowful at 2:03 PM on March 31, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think my only surprised about this is why it didn't happen much sooner. When you share your information with "Public" or "Everyone" you're sharing it with everyone. Maybe I've been too paranoid about my privacy my entire life but I've never understood why I'd publicly share anything like this. When I see the "public" or "everyone" setting, I think of the creepiest, most dangerous person possible and ask myself: do I want this person to know where I am, who my friends are, what I look like, what I like and dislike? But I think a lot of people aren't that paranoid. They seem to filter down "everyone" to just the nice people they might want to hang out with.

I can sort of see the point of possibly sharing my location/profile info with people I know but my friends and I are a lot alike in that we don't like broadcasting details. So if I'm in my friend's neighborhood getting some coffee, I'll text or email.

To me, the problems here is that many people aren't aware they're broadcasting these details publicly to everyone that is listening (their friends, strangers, creepers, governments, potential employers, etc). The Girls Around Me app would simply not work if people weren't broadcasting their lives publicly like this.

In a just world the default settings would be "just my friends" and if you change it to "public" a popup would display rtha's section of the TOS showing what that means with an "are you sure you want to do this?" prompt. But we live in a world where companies like Facebook that are at odds with the old concept of privacy. The less private we are, the better it is for Facebook's bottom line.

There've been websites around that let you search public FB status updates for stupid shit people say. There have been news articles about how thieves can know when you're not going to be home for a while just by looking at your twitter feed or status updates. There are other thieves that broadcast publicly on FB photos of them committing the crime and showing off what they got. But I think a lot of the appeal some FB users have is how everyone can see everything they're doing.

It is one thing to let all the cool people know you're at the bar, but it isn't cool to let skeevy potential rapists know. The problem is they're both part of the group "public".
posted by birdherder at 2:05 PM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


So what you're explaining to me is that people are flipping their shit over a pick-up strategy that only works on television and romantic comedies?
Why wouldn't they?
Or are people are flipping their shit over Foursquare doing exactly what it says on the tin (publishing where you told it that you are) and Facebook doing exactly what it says on the tin (publishing that you're single, hot, and ready to party).
Yes, because they didn't realize that it could be done.
posted by delmoi at 2:05 PM on March 31, 2012


PUA? Does that stand for pick-up artists?
posted by zarq at 2:07 PM on March 31, 2012


So what you're explaining to me is that people are flipping their shit over a pick-up strategy that only works on television and romantic comedies?

Yes! That's what we're telling you!

Whether it works is irrelevant. The point is that people in real life still try to use it — and that when they do, they end up behaving in nasty and disrespectful ways, and making life miserable for the women around them.

You seem to think that we're all just mad about some nerd getting an "unfair advantage" in the dating game, like this is just a big "fuck you, I got mine" from the successful daters of the world. But that's not the issue at all. I'm all about successful dating! For everyone! I'd love to see every single lonely straight guy in the world manage to meet the girl of his dreams! I'd just rather they didn't resort to all this creepy, pushy, I-don't-care-about-your-boundaries shit in their misguided attempts to get there.
posted by nebulawindphone at 2:24 PM on March 31, 2012 [8 favorites]


Yeah, read the hypothetical situation laid out by cultofmac:
“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.”
posted by delmoi at 2:27 PM on March 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


Companies like Facebook, Foursquare, et. al., would shit themselves if they had to follow anything like the informed consent that a Surgeon, for example, has to follow.

Before surgery: "I have to tell you that, unlikely as it is, you might end up dead or horribly damaged by circumstances beyond our control that are an inherent part of having a surgery like this under deep anaesthesia."

If $social_media_company were required to do this, it would be "We have to tell you before signing up that putting anything on our site that on a 'public' setting means that pedophiles, rapists, stalkers, murderers, and that asshole who stuck his pencil in your ear in 6th grade will be able to access this information, compare with other publicly accessible information, and find you."
posted by chimaera at 2:32 PM on March 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


so, who cares if $social_media_company flips its shit? If society thinks disclosure and transparency in use of data is valuable, necessary, desirable, $social_media_company needs to be transparent in accordance with society's needs and values.
posted by crush-onastick at 2:44 PM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think that John Brownlee (author of the Cult of Mac article) is being far too charitable to the creators of this app:
So I’m writing about it now. Not because Girls Around Me is an evil app that should be pulled from the iOS App Store, or because the company that makes it — Moscow-based i-Free — is filled with villains. I still don’t believe that there’s anything wrong with what this app is doing, and the guys at i-Free are super nice, and certainly don’t mean for this app to be anything beyond a diversion.
[emphasis mine]

I guess I just disagree: It's not "super nice" to use someone's data in a creepy way that they almost certainly didn't anticipate, and the way that the app is marketed is clearly indicates that they don't intend it to be merely a "diversion". Check out these taglines that appear on the homepage of the app:
Girls Around Me combines the best features of Facebook, Google Maps and foursquare! And with millions of chicks checking in daily, there’s never been a better time to be on the hunt

In the mood for love, or just after a one-night stand? Girls Around Me puts you in control! Reveal the hottest nightspots, who’s in them, and how to reach them...

Browse photos of lovely local ladies and tap their thumbnail to find out more about them.

Girls Around Me is the perfect complement to any pick-up strategy. Send a sultry message via Facebook or turn up at the venue armed with flowers and a winning smile to sweep that special girl off her feet!
[again, emphasis mine]

What the app does, what the app is called, the graphic design of the app, and how it's marketed all adds up to one thing: Fucking creepy. It is not a diversion, it is not nice, and it is wrong.
posted by jcreigh at 3:00 PM on March 31, 2012 [11 favorites]


so, who cares if $social_media_company flips its shit? If society thinks disclosure and transparency in use of data is valuable, necessary, desirable, $social_media_company needs to be transparent in accordance with society's needs and values.

I don't care if $social_media_company flips its shit; I would love to see them flip their shit. I think more shit-flipping is in order as a matter of fact. Facebook's valuation is going to be above the $100 Billion dollar mark, and they will certainly find more than a few law-makers in congress to protect them.
posted by chimaera at 3:07 PM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


I-don't-care-about-your-boundaries shit

I don't think it's clear you can accuse anybody who's making or using an app like Girls Near Me of that. The closest thing they've had to an opportunity to find out what any of the boundaries are for the people the app searches is whether or not the information is visible on the web. You can argue that every potential author/user of such an app should *know* that there are many users of social media services who haven't made a sufficient investment in understanding and keeping up with changing privacy policies and controls. But if you're allowing that users of facebook/foursquare might be in that place, it seems unfair to me to not allow the same likely possibility for GNM devs and users.

Not only that, but there are some general problems here -- not everybody's boundaries are the same. Combine that with the fact that many if not most people are quick to conclude that if somebody else's expectations of appropriate boundaries crosses theirs they're dealing with a "creep." Some of that appears to be happening in this thread.

There are limits to that relativity, but they're *well* beyond wanting an app which will let you do a proximity search and get photos of women (or men) in a certain radius, their interests, and maybe a little bit of info about them. In fact, that's pretty much the service most dating websites offer, minus specific "where are you now" location services.

The real issue here is that since boundaries are relative, it's important to cooperate with people in helping them set their own. And like Stross and Brownlee, I assign the responsibility primarily to Facebook & Foursquare, who I don't think do a good enough job of providing clear cues, instructions, and tools to help people understand and manage what they're doing.

I'd add, though, that I think part of the purpose of their essay to bring more responsibility back to social media users by making them aware of the potentially unsettling possibilities that are in play because the incentives of most social media services are always at least partially at odds with privacy. And we could use a lot more of that awareness, because without it, *this* kind of creepy is nothing compared to the world we're going to end up with where everybody's wearing glasses or contacts or implants that tell them everything about you on sight. Along with proximity searches.
posted by weston at 4:13 PM on March 31, 2012


From the Stross piece:

you don't need a special purpose tool like "Girls Around Me" to do this, if you have a reasonably powerful Facebook query tool and know how to use it.

I confess that I one time in my life stalked a woman on facebook. This was for all of about two minutes during which I decided:

this is so creepy I am freaking myself the fuck out;

and,

she is too stupid for me to be interested in.

It was a win win! Your own mileage may obviously vary. Hope you don't like stalking women on facebook because it's trivially easy to do.
posted by bukvich at 4:22 PM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


There are limits to that relativity, but they're *well* beyond wanting an app which will let you do a proximity search and get photos of women (or men) in a certain radius, their interests, and maybe a little bit of info about them. In fact, that's pretty much the service most dating websites offer, minus specific "where are you now" location services.

As you say later in your comment, letting people set their own boundaries is important.

Someone signing up for a dating website is signing up for a dating website.

Someone signing up for Facebook and Foursquare isn't doing that. They're doing something else entirely.

That someone devised a service which combines the information on Facebook with the location services of Foursquare and promoted it as some kind of tool to help men on the prowl score women... that's where the creepy comes in.
posted by hippybear at 4:23 PM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


That someone devised a service which combines the information on Facebook with the location services of Foursquare and promoted it as some kind of tool to help men on the prowl score women... that's where the creepy comes in.

What exactly is the creepy part, though? Is it that there are men on the prowl? That they want to score women? That there are services which cater to this?

I don't think so. In fact, I'm pretty sure the problem isn't even really that there are people who write and use such services who assume it's ok to read/search information that's publicly visible on social media sites.

The point should not be any specific use of the information; any approach which tries to place the focus there is going to mean a long and ultimately futile game of whack-a-mole. The point is that once someone gives *any* information to Facebook or Foursquare or whoever, they only have control over which third parties see and use that information to the degree that the social media site gives them control -- and that they understand the tools of control.
posted by weston at 5:12 PM on March 31, 2012


The point should not be any specific use of the information; any approach which tries to place the focus there is going to mean a long and ultimately futile game of whack-a-mole. The point is that once someone gives *any* information to Facebook or Foursquare or whoever, they only have control over which third parties see and use that information to the degree that the social media site gives them control -- and that they understand the tools of control.

But there can be more than one point. I mean, yes, people shouldn't make their personal data available like that. But people also shouldn't use that data in a way that obviously goes beyond what those people intended. People shouldn't leave their front door unlocked either, but that doesn't mean it's ok to walk into their houses and take their stuff if they do.
posted by Ragged Richard at 5:54 PM on March 31, 2012 [6 favorites]


What's creepy is that the women who signed themselves up for FourSquare did not indicate 1) I'm single; 2) I'm straight; 3) I'm interested in dating; 4) I'm interested in being approached for a sexual relationship when I'm out in public. Nonetheless, their profiles were appropriated for a service that says "Hey! Guys looking to get laid, either immediately or in the course of romantic relationship, here are women within X miles of you."

That, frankly, is creepy. It's a serious breach of the user's trust.
posted by crush-onastick at 5:55 PM on March 31, 2012 [5 favorites]


The hacker news discussion thread had some good information.
posted by bukvich at 6:08 PM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


So what you're explaining to me is that people are flipping their shit over a pick-up strategy that only works on television and romantic comedies?

People are flipping their shit over a tool designed to specifically encourage the message sent to men that women in public are sexual commodities to be chosen and conquered. Look at the start-up screen--sure, that totally screams "Hey, here is something to help you develop a respectful, long-term relationship with another human being."

The direct implication of this app is that if you are a woman and you are in public, then you are fair game for any guy who wants to hit on you. You could be sitting on a park bench just trying to read your own damn book, but because you didn't check your Facebook privacy settings carefully enough the guy on the other side of the park is now assembling a dossier on you to aid his pick-up lines.

If it was one guy, once a year, whatever. The problem is there are a lot of men who think that they deserve the attention of women they don't know, and so approach us and harass the shit out of us. Most women when they leave their homes carry a constant background dialogue in their head trying to negotiate routes and methods of carrying themselves to best avoid attracting the attention of strange men so they don't get yet another creep following them for three blocks telling them to smile.

If you don't see the problem with apps that facilitate that behavior, I don't know what to tell you.
posted by schroedinger at 6:16 PM on March 31, 2012 [8 favorites]


But people also shouldn't use that data in a way that obviously goes beyond what those people intended -- People shouldn't leave their front door unlocked either, but that doesn't mean it's ok to walk into their houses and take their stuff if they do.

I'd agree with the unlocked door scenario, but I don't think it's good analogy for what's going on here. Much of the problem here is that it's *somebody else's house* we're leaving our information in. Heck, not even "in" -- we're putting it up on posters in the windows and on the outside walls. Often without talking to them about the neighborhood, who comes over, and how they do things at their house. And then we're apparently surprised when it's displayed differently than we would in our houses and seen by people we wouldn't decide to show it to.
posted by weston at 6:51 PM on March 31, 2012


you are the product, not the customer.

Nonsense! Prostitution is a service industry.
posted by LogicalDash at 7:12 PM on March 31, 2012


I'd agree with the unlocked door scenario, but I don't think it's good analogy for what's going on here. Much of the problem here is that it's *somebody else's house* we're leaving our information in.

You're not wrong, but I think the marketing spin that these companies use matters. Because they're not really saying "come put your stuff in our house!" They're saying "we'll make a room especially for you in our house, and you can put your stuff in there!" So, in that case, yes, people who want to put their stuff in that room should ask, "hey, you're not going to give this stuff to other people, are you?" They absolutely should. But that doesn't make it any less of a shitty thing to do to walk into that room and take their stuff, even if the owner of the house lets you.

I wonder how far into this analogy we can get before we're actually just arguing about real estate.
posted by Ragged Richard at 10:32 PM on March 31, 2012


I'd agree with the unlocked door scenario, but I don't think it's good analogy for what's going on here. Much of the problem here is that it's *somebody else's house* we're leaving our information in. Heck, not even "in" -- we're putting it up on posters in the windows and on the outside walls.
To abuse this analogy even further, it's like no one is willing to even build houses anymore, they just build capsule hotels for us to sleep in, with no doors just curtains. They do this because they want us to "be social". They want us to go to the theater (and pay money) instead of watching pirated mkv files at home, they want us to eat at restaurants instead of cooking at home, they want us to go to the gym rather then go for a run, they want us to spend all our time in their environment where they can make them money and they have rebuilt society to accommodate their desire.

So even if you want privacy you can't get it, unless you leave the 'city' entirely and go live in a tent or something.

The architecture could be different. You could have everything running on local PCs with strong crypto so that you can have your privacy cake and eat your social cake a the same. But the architecture wasn't build that way, because this structure makes more money.
posted by delmoi at 11:40 PM on March 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


Apps like this one are the reason why obsessively pour over the privacy settings of the social networks I've joined, keep my online identity fragmented, and avoid most social apps entirely. If I share my information publicly, I can't blame people for using it in ways that I didn't intend (or even approve of). Once it's out there it's out of my control, and I've basically signed up for everything, including this app. No one is going to guard my privacy for me.

This also seems like an instance where civilians are taking advantage aggregation and data mining to do things that I find uncomfortable* like Target, Facebook, and Google are already doing themselves.

* I think creepy is the wrong word for this.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 1:41 AM on April 1, 2012


The settings determining how visible your Facebook and Foursquare data is are complicated, and tend to be meaningless to people who don’t really understand issues about privacy,”

That pretty much sums up the entire controversy, right there.

Remember when you first installed FourSquare, and your friends went from saying "who cares that you're shopping at Target?" to "what if some stalker was there looking for you?" But then you installed it anyway?

Yeah, well, you can't say you weren't warned. This is Facebook and FourSquare working *exactly* as intended, whether you were aware of it or not. (Granted, the way the information is presented is pretty creepy looking, but the same tools have been available ever since GPS, smart phones, and "checking in" became ubiquitous)
posted by ShutterBun at 1:45 AM on April 1, 2012


Maybe I've been too paranoid about my privacy my entire life but I've never understood why I'd publicly share anything like this.

You write a piece for the school paper, are you setting it to "friends of friends"? No! You're setting it to public, you want everyone to read it.

You take some pictures of your school trip that you are proud of. Should the prints not be public?

The problem here is that the social services are abusing our connotations of "public". Public is fine when you are protected by your obscurity and by human limitations and norms.

Public is abhorrent when it can be invaded by scurrying little computer programmes that harvest your information in ways no sane human would invest the effort in doing.

Killing this app doesn't change a thing. What's needed is better and stronger controls over APIs and data use. "Public including web spiders and APIs" should be a different category of access entirely, off by default.
posted by fightorflight at 3:24 AM on April 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Remind me again ... why do I want to be on FourSquare?
posted by fistynuts at 3:45 AM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's funny how people only whine about equality in the dating game when its the ugly people who discover an advantage over the pretty people.

As someone who has spent his life fighting with low self esteem and body image issues, I admit once thought like this, and it brings me great shame. It's an issue with language and rationalization. You hear people like this talk about being bitter from being "rejected", however, if you're utilizing technology to learn about someone without ever actually talking to them, it's safe to assume that you aren't doing much talking, thus no one giving anyone a chance to 'reject' anyone. It's far easier to imagine "The Beautiful People", living charmed lives of carefree abandon, as a monolithic aristocracy bent on keeping you out than it is to admit that maybe the problem is with you.

It's not that "Pretty people" are collectively laughing at you and your nerdly interests, they don't know who you are. The crueler truth is, you're not as noble as you think. There's always something sinister in these laments when you really listen to them: "Woe is me, I'm such an ugly nerd, if only someone would give me the chance, I would be their Prince Charming... if they knew what was good for them" Because clearly "Chicks dig jerks" because they're stupid. Also, there's usually an element of hypocrisy: "Ugly Nerds" aren't whining about being rejected by other "Ugly nerds", they're pissed because they can't bed a cheerleader.

Which brings us to the telling language of "an advantage over the pretty people". It's a war! Desperate insurgents in an asymmetrical war! Sexy party girls can't just be sexy and visible and make me feel bad about who I am, nor should I seek out someone who shares the same interests as I do and/or expect the same thing I apparently expect of the girls I am stalking: to look past the physical and get to know "the real" person on the inside, since, judging by the maps and associated imagery, I'm guessing the "ugly nerds" using this app aren't scanning for girls checking into comic shops or Micro Centre.

This went on longer than I meant it to, but it really got under my skin, as there's NEVER been a BETTER time to be an "ugly nerd": Steve Jobs is practically being canonized, everyone plays video games, the biggest cultural properties and franchises are almost universally nerd-centric. There's never been a BETTER time to try and meet someone, THAT'S your advantage, not some creepy spy app.

Trust me, I'm an IT professional AND I work in a goth club: ugly people get laid all the time. It's all about confidence, confidence takes practice, practice means fucking up. No really, the fact that you think it's all about looks says more about your own superficiality than anyone else. If you are so afraid of people that you think pulling up digital Cliff's Notes on random strangers and tracking them with your cell phone is not only a viable plan, but any criticism of that as "discrimination", trust me, your looks aren't what's keeping you single.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 8:04 AM on April 1, 2012 [15 favorites]


This discussion thread provides useful info for my PUA Creeps On Metafilter database.
posted by nicebookrack at 8:28 AM on April 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Can Science give us a special icon for that?
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:57 AM on April 1, 2012


What's creepy is that the women who signed themselves up for FourSquare did not indicate 1) I'm single; 2) I'm straight; 3) I'm interested in dating; 4) I'm interested in being approached for a sexual relationship when I'm out in public.

This a thousand times.

The fact that there are people in this thread making excuses for this app is stunning. Yes, absolutely, people should be more aware of the privacy pitfalls of social networking sites. Yes, absolutely, this is a broader problem. Yes, of course, Facebook et al should make the consequences of privacy settings much clearer.

But that does NOT mean it's okay to put people who are unaware of these issues on a public "ladies available for fucking" list. It is not okay to invite harassment for someone because they didn't know something.
posted by jcreigh at 9:32 AM on April 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


it's okay to put people who are unaware of these issues on a public "ladies available for fucking" list.

Shoot, why stop with that characterization? After all, the app is probably also literally telling each of its users THESE LADIES WOULD NEVER SAY NO TO A TIGER LIKE YOU RAWRR AND EVEN IF THEY DID THEY'RE JUST BEING COY.

And I think we could all agree that's pretty bad. So maybe if we just make it clear how inappropriate *this* app is, we'll all be OK when somebody makes a much more tasteful app that combines facial recognition to bring up social media profiles. It'll just call itself Recognizr and won't sell itself as a tool for picking up on women, heck, everybody could use it... just something that'll tell you everything it can glean from public data on profiles when you see somebody. But not in a creepy way!
posted by weston at 9:54 AM on April 1, 2012


Shoot, why stop with that characterization? After all, the app is probably also literally telling each of its users THESE LADIES WOULD NEVER SAY NO TO A TIGER LIKE YOU RAWRR AND EVEN IF THEY DID THEY'RE JUST BEING COY.
No, but they are literally telling users "Girls Around Me is the perfect complement to any pick-up strategy" and "there’s never been a better time to be on the hunt". (Or at least they were yesterday: Those two phrases have mysteriously vanished from the Girls Around Me homepage today. Somebody trying to do damage control, I would guess.)

So yeah, my characterization of it was hyperbolic, but I don't think it's unfair. The app really does seem designed with that in mind.
And I think we could all agree that's pretty bad. So maybe if we just make it clear how inappropriate *this* app is, we'll all be OK when somebody makes a much more tasteful app that combines facial recognition to bring up social media profiles. It'll just call itself Recognizr and won't sell itself as a tool for picking up on women, heck, everybody could use it... just something that'll tell you everything it can glean from public data on profiles when you see somebody. But not in a creepy way!
I'm sorry, but I honestly can't see through the snark to the point that you're making. You're saying that if we are too harsh in our judgement of this app, then hypothetically that could make us more accepting of different invasions of privacy in the future? Or something? Break it down for me, because I really don't get it.
posted by jcreigh at 2:43 PM on April 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's tempting to get a nice rage on for GNM, especially since they so obviously marketed this app in a very scummy way, but I really don't think the fundamental problem here is a handful of ethics-free developers in Moscow, as Charlie Stross said in his excellent analysis.

The app is now gone, which is great, but all the necessary conditions for it to exist (the privacy policies of FB, FourSquare etc, the way those policies are implemented, the online culture of extreme sharing, the lack of legal privacy protections, the user-blaming in geek circles, the sexist society we live in etc.) are still in place and I think focusing on them as opposed to the aforementioned scummy app developers is far more interesting and productive.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 5:23 AM on April 2, 2012


You really don't need any app to use Foursquare and Facebook this way.
  1. search Foursquare for people near you
  2. sift profiles by eye until you find one obviously female
  3. look her up on Facebook
  4. there is no step four
Perhaps a little less convenient, but still the sort of thing that bored horny men can do while they're stuck in traffic.
posted by LogicalDash at 5:45 AM on April 2, 2012


Sure, LogicalDash, but when the guy does it on his own, there is neither tacit nor implicit approval of what he is doing. It's up to him to question the creepiness of what he's doing and he has to look to social cues to find out whether or not it's okay to compile dossiers on strangers and then invade their personal space with that information.

When the software is developed for him, when it is approved by the people who have to give you permission to sell an app for their phone, there is a very clear signal to him that what he is doing is sanctioned by society. It's not--or, at least, it shouldn't be.
posted by crush-onastick at 6:14 AM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


but I honestly can't see through the snark to the point that you're making. You're saying that if we are too harsh in our judgement of this app, then hypothetically that could make us more accepting of different invasions of privacy in the future?

Yes, I'm saying that someone who believes the *app* is the problem is likely to approach the issue from a frame in which it's likely they will either accept further invasions or propose solutions which will be ineffective at protecting against them.

In fact, I'd say it's already happened. The privacy invasions that make what the app does possible (even without it) all happened and were not only accepted but more or less embraced years ago. The app serves as a vehicle to illustrate some specific potential problems that hit at a visceral level and bring home how unsettling the whole situation is. But the app is the least significant link in the chain that gets personal information onto a Facebook profile and from there into the hands of someone who'd abuse it, and it's a chain that stays remarkably intact if you remove that link... assuming any given such app even trips enough people's creepy-meter that there's an article like Brownlee's to draw negative attention to it.

Conversely, if you solve the problem of proper privacy tools from social media services presented to educated users who wield them with informed consent, you pretty much solve the problem presented by an app like Girls Around Me.
posted by weston at 7:14 AM on April 2, 2012


weston, thanks for clarifying. I really wasn't being purposefully obtuse, I'm just slow. :)

Okay, that's a fair point. I never meant to give the impression that I think the app is *the* problem, just that it's *a* problem. And in fact I think the app could be a useful case study to try to educate people on these matters, as, unfortunately, abstract arguments about privacy don't seem to be compelling to most people.
posted by jcreigh at 12:13 PM on April 2, 2012


Interview with the dev.
posted by rtha at 10:00 AM on April 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Atlantic: The 'Girls Around Me' Problem Isn't Just About Data, but Sexism

Most articles about Girls Around Me rightly call it "creepy" and engage in an important conversation about what data one makes public and how that information can be misused. The tenor of the reaction is that this kind of app is inevitable: a public Facebook profile + a public Four-Square check-in = Girls Around Me (as was tweeted to me).

But this equation misses a massively important variable: sexism. It is no coincidence the app is called Girls Around Me. The outcry has as much to do with sexual politics as it does about data and privacy. Meanwhile, articles have ignored the sexism inherent in the app and instead only talk about data and privacy....
Another consequence of the trend to only talk about data and not society, norms, politics, values and everything else confusing about the analogue world is the victim-blaming implicit in most of these articles. The cause of the problem? Women sharing data. The solution? Women need to better control their data (in fairness, Madrigal also asks what companies can do about this, but does not come to any answers; the burden is left on women). This data-centric view of "data-sharing-is-bad and control-your-data" borders on blaming the victim instead of criticizing the sexist culture that makes this data dangerous in the first place.

posted by flex at 11:18 AM on April 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yeah, it's generally true that those who are already picked-upon in public stand to lose the most from data mining apps. I recall there was an app that claimed to detect whether someone was a transsexual that got duly trounced. Add locative data to that, and sell it as a homo-avoidance tool, and you're also selling the ideal queer bashing app.

I'm not saying it's inappropriate to talk about the app's sexism, but the app really works better as an illustration of the hazards of data-mining--simply because no similar apps have gotten attention for being invasive in that way. There are other, better illustrations of the culture of sexism in ESPN.
posted by LogicalDash at 11:49 AM on April 6, 2012


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