updated 11:30 pm EDT, Thu April 5, 2012
App may be revised to take criticism into account
The app that launched a firestorm of controversy because of its ability to aggregate publicly-available information about women into a profiling tool has been defunded after it was dropped from the App Store. The Russian company behind the application, i-Free, originally defended the program as a "dating aid," allowing users to learn about nearby women (or men) who have "checked in" using Foursquare or Facebook.
Despite all of its data being pulled from profiles willingly posted on "public" sites, most people are largely unaware that an aggregating tool could be used to combine pictures, recent statuses and other data about them with their current location. The app was called "a stalker's dream" and "creepy" and, once publicized, drew immediate and sharp criticism for its obvious potential for misuse. Foursquare quickly blocked access to its data and Apple pulled the app shortly afterwards.
The program was capable of revealing to users where women lived, worked, went to school and other locations, though at one point i-Free said it was "planning" to limit the app to showing only public places. The program pointed out the possible dangers in posting too much data publicly, though both Foursquare and Facebook offer controls to place some limits on who sees some kinds of data. It also demonstrated that very specific, personal and immediate location data could be collected on people nearly instantly without their knowledge or consent.
Although the program could also be used to search for men, searching for women was the default behavior and in-app purchases were designed around buying "energy" to expand the number of women that could be found. The app's marketing was oriented around encouraging users to find and message or get in touch with women, in the hope that new acquaintances could be formed.
In a new statement, i-Free continued to defend the more innocent uses of the app but admitted it "inadvertently stepped over a line that divides useful products [from] unethical attempts to manipulate ... people's sense of safety." Kirill Petrov, the co-founder of the company, also said that although he believes "increasing openness is an inevitable part of the modern, connected world" that he acknowledged that the marketing and placement of the Girls Around Me app as a "dating aid" is "unethical and plays upon primitive feelings."
The company, after initially defending the app, now says development on it will be halted until the team can revise or create a new product that "considers all the criticism expressed" about the app. Critics have said that they hope the debacle will raise awareness, particularly among young women, about the amount of information they post that can be accessed by people outside their circle of online friends. [via The Hill]