Friday, April 6, 2012

Playing the Stalk Market

I'm consistently amazed by the advances in smartphone apps.  If I didn't see it with my own eyes, I would never believe that a program like WordLens could use a tiny camera to recognize letters and words and translate them into another language:

And the same goes for SoundHound, which recognizes music and provides the title and artist of the song you're listening to. 

Don't get me started on apps like PayPal or Square, which, when equipped with a miniature card reader that plugs into the headphone jack, let you accept credit card payments with a smartphone.  Committing credit card fraud on the go has never been easier!

It's like I'm living in those futuristic scenes from Back to the Future II; surely we're only months away from hoverboards and flying cars criss-crossing the sky.  If all these mind-bowing apps aren't proof enough, the power-lacing shoes from Back to the Future II hit the market late last year.  The future is now!

We're walking around with tiny computers that can see, hear, and that can tell us--and others--exactly where we are thanks to their GPS capabilities.  Let's face it--it was only a matter of time before computer geeks attempted to cure their loneliness by tapping into the dark side of their nerdy talents.

There's where an app called "Girls Around Me" enters the scene.  A Russian development company, i-Free, created the perfect storm of privacy concerns by mashing up a trifecta of popular online tools: Facebook, Foursquare, and Google Maps.  With Facebook, users (many of whom are too ignorant to bother using the privacy settings) publicly share their most personal information; with Foursquare, they "check in" and let the world know their exact location in real time; and with Google Maps, i-Free gives strangers a way to track down other strangers with the convenience of easy step-by-step directions.  What could go wrong?!

After reading a number of articles, I have acquired a basic understanding of Girls Around Me's functionality.  Apparently the app provides locations--and photos--of Facebook users who check in on Foursquare near the app user's current location.  Once the Girls Around Me user sees who is around him, he can visit her Facebook page and, depending on her privacy settings, uncover and wealth of personal information.

For some reason, the public backlash to Girls Around Me was substantial.  In response to the negative publicity, i-Free claimed that the app was intended only to help users--both male and female--"uncover local hotspots"...though that doesn't fully explain why i-Free chose to name the app "Girls Around Me."  The company went so far as to claim that it was nothing more than a scapegoat in the crazy world of online privacy.  And i-Free was quick to point out that their app only offered up information that users were already making publicly available on Facebook and Foursquare.

Well, these are sad days for predators, sociopaths, and the innocently curious.  At the end of March, Foursquare responded to the firestorm of negativity by restricting Girls Around Me's access to its users' information, which made the app essentially useless.  At that point, Apple booted the app from the iTunes  store, all but ending its life after only a few short months and around 70,000 downloads.

So far all the creepers out there, it looks like it's back to the dark ages of stalking.  One day, as the world continues to lax its uptight views on online privacy, it will let you go about your shameful business with the assistance of a convenient smartphone app.  But until then, it's back to the old tricks and tools of the trade: binocular-peeking, trench coat wearing, nighttime stalk-ee following, long distance telephoto picture-taking, and good old fashioned window-leering.  It may not be easy, but our forefathers would be proud to see a dying art live on for a few more years.

Here are more than a few links on the story--apparently this was a popular one...;siu-container

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