'Stalker' app pulled after 'rapist tool' outcry

BEN GRUBB
Last updated 16:30 02/04/2012

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An iPhone app that essentially allowed users to stalk women nearby using location-based social networking service Foursquare has been pulled from the iTunes app store by its developer after an outcry of criticism.

The "Girls Around Me" app utilised publicly available data from the check-in service Foursquare to show where women had checked in nearby before Foursquare yanked the Girls Around Me app's access to its data, which in turn led to the app's developer removing it from iTunes as it didn't work properly.

"This is a violation of our API [application programming interface] policy, so we've reached out to the developer and shut off their API access," Laura Covington, a Foursquare spokeswoman, said in statement to the New York Times.

In addition to showing on a map women who had checked-in to locations nearby using Foursquare, the app also let users view Facebook information of those ladies if they had tied their Facebook account to their Foursquare account and if their Facebook account privacy settings were lax enough to allow any user to access it.

US technology blog Gizmodo labelled the "Girls Around Me" app the "world's creepiest", as did The New York Times Bits blog, which said it "definitely" won the prize for being "too creepy".

As far as Fairfax Media has been able to trace back, the app was first publicised in the technology space on March 30 this year by the Cult of Mac blog, whose news editor, John Brownlee, wrote that it was "as innocent as it is insidious".

"It is just as likely to be reacted to with laughter as it is with tears," he wrote, before adding: "It is as much of a novelty as it has the potential to be used a tool for rapists and stalkers."

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On the girlsaround.me promotional website used for marketing the app, it states that the service "helps you see where nearby girls are checking in, and shows you what they look like and how to get in touch.

"You can also search for guys or see who's hanging out at a particular place," it says.

Another tag line states this: "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".

COMPANY REACTION

In a statement to the Wall Street Journal, the company behind the app, O.O.O. SMS Servicies, defended its creation, saying it was designed to make "geo-social exploration of popular venues easy and visual".

"We follow the geo-social trend for mobile devices that is supported by numerous location sharing services, networks and apps," it said, before adding that other social networks did similar things to what it did.

The company also pointed out that it was "impossible" to search for a particular person in the app or to track their movements. "The app just allows the user to browse the venues nearby, as if you passed by and looked in the window," O.O.O. SMS Servicies said, adding that the app had been available for "several months" and had been downloaded more than 70,000 times.

"Since the app's launch we've seen numerous positive comments from users who claimed that the app helped them to discover 'hot spots' - venues that are popular among girls or boys.

"Since the app's launch till last Friday nobody ever raised a privacy concern because, again, it is clearly stated that Girls Around Me cannot show the user more data than [what Foursqure or Facebook] already does."

The company's full statement can be read on the Wall Street Journal website here.

-The Age

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