i-Free Innovations, the russian developer of an iPhone app named ‘Girls Around Me’, has responded to claims that the app could be used by stalkers to track women. In a statement to the Wall Street Journal, i-Free said:
“We follow the geo-social trend for mobile devices that is supported by numerous location sharing services, networks and apps. Many other mobile apps provide the same or more extended functionality using location data provided by APIs of major social networks, i.e. Ban.jo or Sonar.”
‘Girls Around Me’ was an app that used both Facebook’s and Foursquare’s API to show the location of women or men around the user’s phone and display information publicly available about them from Facebook. Though all of this information is public on both of these separate services, the combination of the info in one place proved ‘creepy’ as those pictured in the app were unaware of being featured. Foursquare cut off i-Free’s access to their API last Saturday, stating that the ‘Girls Around Me’ app violated their API policy. i-Free has subsequently removed the app from the app store, citing the fact that, without Foursquare, the app is now useless.
In their statement to the Wall Street Journal, i-Free argued that their app is not able to be used anonymously and that it is impossible to search for individual people or track someone’s location. They compare the app to browsing nearby venues, “as if you passed by an looked in the window.” They also say they believe it to be “unethical to pick a scapegoat to talk about…privacy concerns.”
i-Free’s claim that the app was meant to facilitate the discovery of public venues rings pretty hollow. The app was obviously meant as a tool to browse the pictures and interests of women in the user’s vicinity. To that end, I imagine the app was probably only mildly successful. Any women featured on the app would have to be in the user’s immediate area, use Foursquare regularly, and have their Facebook profile at least partially public. A subset of people who I presume would know how free they were being with their data. Still, this highlights the dangers that aggregation of private information can have. Pull from enough APIs and you can get a fairly good picture of an individual without their consent.
What do you think? Is Foursquare correct to shut down this ‘creepy’ app or is it an individual’s responsibility to protect their personal information? Let me know in the comments below.