Has the moment finally arrived when all those warnings by privacy scolds finally hits home for millions of users of social networks who reveal all sorts of personal information for all to see over the Internet? On a Friday in late March, a perfectly legit but "creepy" mobile app called Girls Around Me had sparked a rollicking conversation about the dark side of our socially connected lives.
The app, how it works, and the shocked reaction of his female friends to what it does were all detailed in Cult of Mac reporter John Brownlee's long article on Girls Around Me, which takes publicly available information from FourSquare and Facebook, mashes it up, and presents users with a map showing where nearby females are located plus a quick link to their Facebook profiles.
For many, that simple app probably doesn't seem like a likely candidate for tipping point in the ongoing privacy awareness campaign being waged by fuddy-duddies like the "Linux aficionado" described in Brownlee's piece who reacted with "comical smugness" when the reporter showed a group of friends what the app was revealing about blissfully unaware women in the vicinity.
But it was the "less computer-affable" of Brownlee's friends, mostly female, whose reactions as described by the reporter caused such a commotion over privacy concerns. 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.
The reaction to those women's reactions to Girls Around Me has clearly been pretty potent. The application for mobile devices like the iPhone was being called "creepy" and a "stalker app" on Friday afternoon. Within a few hours of the Cult of Mac publishing the story, FourSquare informed the site that it had "killed Girls Around Me's API access to their data, effectively knocking the app out of commission."
But as Brownlee notes in the original story, the problem isn't so much Girls Around Me as it is the huge numbers of people who simply don't take care to protect their privacy while participating in social networking. He characterizes the developers at i-Free, the Russian company that makes Girls Around Me as "super nice" guys who "certainly don't mean for this app to be anything beyond a diversion."