The Girls Around Me app: Creepy, dangerous, and a good reminder to update your privacy settings

girlsaroundmeIt was only a matter of time. Cult of Mac has pointed out this incredibly creepy app, Girls Around Me, which as you might imagine, takes social network check-ins and a user’s personal GPS data to locate and broadcast all the surrounding women (and men – although that is not the app’s advertised purpose or generating as much hype) in a given area.

From the minute someone coined the term “SoLoMo” (which is at once the quickest and most gag-inducing way to identify this market), our collective privacy fears were piqued. These apps, though opt-in, could be dangerous. But really, it’s been a bunch of “could-be’s”  — someone could use this app to find you or someone could unwittingly be broadcasting an embarrassing location. For the most part, however, it’s been a lot of hypothetical situations.

Apps like Highlight, Glancee, and Banjo have spent tons of time talking about privacy and safety in the wake of these concerns. They emphasize how you willingly opt-in to using them and features that allow you to pause location recording. But make no mistake, Girls Around Me has no concern for privacy.

The app takes public check-ins and Facebook profiles and displays a girl’s photo via Google Maps, so you know exactly where she is. You can then access her Facebook profile and peruse whatever is publicly visible. You might be quick to dismiss this as women who haven’t so much as glanced at privacy settings that are getting suckered, but the app also takes into account when others check you in somewhere via Facebook. Foursquare, for the record, pulled API access from Girls Around Me in response to Cult of Mac’s story. 

Really, Girls Around Me is just proving what we all knew could happen when the power of social and location app APIs combine: people get weird and make a lot of us really uncomfortable. But honestly, this thing isn’t doing anything differently than many competitor apps except for a few key things – one, the creepy name. Two, it’s gender-specific focus on finding people.

This unfortunately hurts the reputation of apps like Highlight, in which only people that download the app will be surfaced by it. But it’s important for anyone that uses a social network to know how their information can be used. I know this plea to fight privacy setting apathy happens so often the words just blur together, but Girls Around Me has made it very clear just how creepy and potentially unsafe this all can get. Every once in awhile new technology comes along that tests our comfort zone, and then something in the same vein completely exploits it. So go and check on your Facebook sharing settings, and your Google Profile, Twitter, and Foursquare accounts while you’re at it. Stories about protecting your privacy can never be written too often, especially considering that apps like Girls Around Me are nowadays a dime a dozen.