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Girls Around Me App Exposes Privacy Dangers Of Social Networks

Submitted by on April 2, 2012 – 11:09 am4 Comments

An app called Girls Around Me, which collected public social network data of people in the user’s area, has been pulled from the iOS App Store following a blog post which made it a national story. Using Foursquare, Facebook, and Google maps, Girls Around Me presented detailed personal information of people in the area, creating a nightmare for those concerned with internet privacy.

John Brownlee at Cult Of Mac profiled the app on Friday afternoon, describing how its features horrified a group of friends. Though Girls Around Me had been available for months, it had ganered little attention until now.

By Saturday evening, Foursquare had pulled the apps’ API access to data, effectively killing it; and Moscow-based developers i-Free had pulled Girls Around Me from the App Store. I-Free claims to have been scapegoated; but their damning promotional material shows that the line between using and abusing the app was thin or even nonexistent.

Brownlee writes about showing the app to friends, who exhibit a mix of amusement, confusion, and eventually anger and fear. He boots up the app, which immediately displays a map of their area indicating nearby girls. Brownlee describes how it works:

“These are all girls with publicly visible Facebook profiles who have checked into these locations recently using Foursquare. Girls Around Me then shows you a map where all the girls in your area trackable by Foursquare area. If there’s more than one girl at a location, you see the number of girls there in a red bubble. Click on that, and you can see pictures of all the girls who are at that location at any given time. The pictures you are seeing are their social network profile pictures.”

“Okay, so they know that their data can be used like this for anyone to see? They’re okay with it?”

“Probably not, actually. 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,” I explained. “Most privacy settings on social networks default to share everything with everyone, and since most people never change those… well, they end up getting sucked up into apps like this.”

What do you think? Are the programmers of Girls Around Me responsible for privacy concerns? Are Facebook and Foursquare? Are the users themselves? And is your social network information at risk?

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