Despite a supposedly rigorous, rigid and reliable approval process employed to maintain the quality, security and legality of applications within its App Store, a mobile app that we have no reservations in calling a stalker's best friend has only just been pulled from Apple's store – and not even at the request of Apple itself.
Instead, its developer i-Free Innovations (based in Russia) has removed the app for download from the App Store after a torrent of justifiable criticism was drawn its way, with many pointing out how the collation of location data through Facebook and Foursquare in order to locate potential 'mates' could be a little on the stalking side of things. The app had been downloaded more than 70,000 times before its removal.
So what exactly is 'Girls Around Me' and why should you care? In essence, Girls Around Me is not too dissimilar to the multitude of geolocation iPhone apps already on the marketplace – one of a few 'out's' that its developer will understandably allude to when questioned. What's more, strictly speaking the app isn't doing anything untoward at all, the developer is simply using publically-available information from Google Maps, Facebook and Foursquare and chucking them all into a big mash-up app that exposes some of the *many* privacy issues associated with the *many* social networks we use on a daily basis. Why it's getting the amount of attention, then, is the way in which it uses its public API's in order to present markers of those nearest to you (discoverable by gender), complete with Facebook profile picture, where that particular person was 'last seen' and any other information/photos that they have open to the public through Facebook. In some cases, whole photo albums, relationship status, the names of family, friends and birth date. Simply put, it's a stalker's best friend.
In a statement to The Wall Street Journal, its developer strongly backed the app, saying it is “unethical to pick a scapegoat to talk about the privacy concerns”. In actual fact, i-Free Innovations can feel a little hard done by, though pointing the fingers at others for being 'unethical' is a little rich coming from them. Even so, its reasons to remove the app came not from the backlash itself, but rather Foursquare's pulling of support for Girls Around Me for its violation of policy against aggregating information across venues. “We see this wave of negative as a serious misunderstanding of the apps' goals, purpose, abilities and restrictions.” And to that we give you some of Girls Around Me's most delightful USP's, straight from its dedicated website...
'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...'
'Girls Around Me scans your surroundings and helps you find out where girls or guys are hanging out. You can also see the ratio of girls to guys in different places around you.'
Quite how we missed the goal of the app, we'll never know.
I am the Founder and Editor-in-chief of New Rising Media. You can follow me on Twitter @MrJasonEngland.