Girls Around Me, the geo-location iPhone app, is under fire for undermining women’s privacy, but the controversy seems blown out of proportion. We're quick to ask what new way tech companies have devised to rob us of our privacy, but it's hard to see this app as a real threat to privacy or women. I consider it, instead, more of a wake-up call to those that publicly over share.
The app, which has been voluntarily pulled from the App Store, culls publicly available information from social networks and spits out semi-useful data, such as female-to-male ratios at nearby venues. It also, however, makes use of people's publicly visible Facebook profiles and lets users see any information those people have made public, including full names, ages, relationship statuses, and photos.
But how is any of this useful to a local social network stalker? Any more useful, that is, than it is to a regular old non-local social networking stalker.
If anything, the only thing the Girls Around Me app is going to do is make socially awkward nerds even more socially awkward because now they have to navigate a conversation with a girl without accidentally mentioning something way too creepy, such as her birth date or her "complicated" relationship status.
Someone can pull up the app, find an attractive woman (who overshares on Facebook and uses Foursquare to check-in everywhere) at the coffee shop down the street, and run over there and…then what? Start a conversation about how she went to high school in Montana? Ask her how her new puppy is? Or just sit in a corner and stare at her and think about how she dyed her hair last week? All of these things are a little creepy, but mostly they're just ridiculous.
My IDG colleague Cameron Scott argues that the app shows a "dark side of social networking" -- and the culture gap between app developers and real people. In other words, that app developers believe information is there for the taking, and that they can use it to innovate in any way they see fit, while people don't realize how much information they're giving away.
Certainly, there's the argument that grocery stores give when there's a lost kid wandering the aisles -- don't say the child's name over the intercom, because a child is more likely to go with someone who knows their name (even if that someone is a stranger). But I don't think it's fair to extend that argument to grown adult women.