Last week, Cult of Mac’s John Brownlee posted an article questioning if the app Girls Around Me was violating the privacy of unsuspecting women. Girls Around Me used data from Foursquare to show people who have checked in near you, displaying not only their location, but also their name and a photo with a link to their public profile on Facebook.
The marketing of Girls Around Me on the application’s website states “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….” Although the marketing is suggestive, the biggest complaint of critics is that the data was pulled from users of Foursquare without their knowledge and without their approval or opt-in.
Within a day of Brownlee’s post going live, Foursquare pulled access to their API by Girls Around Me, essentially rendering the app useless. A Foursquare spokesperson stated “This is a violation of our API policy, so we’ve reached out to the developer and shut off their API access.” When asked by Cult of Mac to clarify what part of the policy was violated, they responded with the following, “We have a policy against aggregating information across venues using our API, to prevent situations like this where someone would present an inappropriate overview of a series of locations.”
The app’s developer removed the app from the iTunes App Store later that same day, even though they issued a statement saying they have become the “scapegoat to talk about the privacy concerns.” They also stated they plan to continue to work on this app based on feedback and hope to re-launch it in the future.
Despite the suggestive marketing of the app, the developer continued to stand by their product in a follow-up interview with Cult of Mac: “We knew that men tend to be early adopters, and from the previous app development experience we saw that men were more likely to give feedback on the application or come up with suggestions and feature requests. We also saw that there are more active male users in Foursquare than female users. These were the main reasons to start with the default option set to Girls Around Me.”
This is a reminder of the continuing issue of privacy on social media networks. All users should be aware of their privacy settings and make sure they are set to the level that makes them comfortable. It also raises another question in the privacy debate — is it OK for applications to pull publically-available data into one location without the user’s knowledge or explicit consent?