There’s a creeptastic app called “Girls Around Me” that gleans data from mobile social media platforms to show all the women in your physical location. It’s been pulled since the controversy, but this description from Sophos Naked Security’s Lisa Vaas will give you the chills:
Brownlee’s article describes how he pulled out the app at a party, only to watch female guests recoil at the way data from Facebook and Foursquare was depicted, with each woman represented on the map as a “Matrix-like” silhouette of a naked pole dancer or stripper.
Some of the guests’ comments:
“Wait… what? Are these girls prostitutes?”
“How does it know where these girls are?”
“Do you know all these girls?”
“Is it plucking data from your address book or something?”
The answers Brownlee gave: No, they’re not prostitutes, they’re just regular women. The data from the women (I’ll abstain from calling them “girls,” as I believe they were, in fact, adults), including their specific location, reams of photos, Facebook details including birthdays or relationship status or schools attended, had been publicly broadcast from Facebook and Foursquare’s check-in functions.
Now pull out your smart phone. Do you have Location Services on, and are you using Facebook or Twitter? Shazam! You are stalkable. I’m hearing the Foursquare users scrambling to turn it off. Good. In my view you should always default to not sharing your location unless you have a very good reason to do so.
And there are good business reasons to use location. Realtors advertise open houses, stores promote sales, writers offer book signings… but I’ve also seen people checking in from the grocery store, the gas station, the dentist. Not only does this spam your contacts with needless info, it’s a magnent for the unscrupulous. “Ooh, look! You checked in at the auto repair shop! Which means you’re not home AND you’ve got a ritzy model car. Time for a little breaking and entering!”
Unfortunately it’s not as simple as turning off location. As the Sophos article points out:
…it’s impossible to uninstall Twitter from my phone, as it’s bundled into the operating system. If you want to snip Twitter’s thread, you have to uninstall it (if possible) or quit the application on your phone.
Or turn off Location Services, which stinks if you want to use something like Apple’s nifty Find My Phone or even basic GPS. What’s the use in paying for all these modern features if you have to lobotomize your phone back to the 1990s?
My greatest concern is that most people are using Facebook and Twitter from their phones without thinking about the fact that they are broadcasting their location. If you sign up for Foursquare – okay, you should realize it’s going to tell people where you are. But most folks don’t equate Facebook with “shouting to the world that I’m at the pediatrician.” And that’s another thing: parents, you’re not just broadcasting your location, but your children’s. And if you’ve been publishing stuff about your kids on Facebook, Twitter, or your blog, you’ve just given a potential criminal even more info.
Are you screaming in fury yet? You should be, because this is only going to get worse. Just as we no longer have a choice in using cloud computing, we will soon have no choice in broadcasting our location. We are at the mercy of the device vendors, and our privacy is not exactly their top priority. Get used to being findable by everyone from advertisers to co-workers to total strangers.
Do you use location? Does the idea of apps like “Girls Around Me” creep you out? Share in the comments!