Foursquare has revoked API access to the iOS app Girls Around Me, forcing them to take their tracking app down from the Apple App Store. This follows a scathing editorial on Cult of Mac in which the privacy implications of the app were called into question. The Russian developer, i-Free, has since issued a statement claiming that they've done nothing wrong, and that they're only using APIs on Foursquare and Facebook to enable users to find the names and locations of girls and guys nearby.
We are absolutely convinced that it is good and important to educate the users to take care of their privacy and what they share publicly. But we believe it is unethical to pick a scapegoat to talk about the privacy concerns. We see this wave of negative as a serious misunderstanding of the apps’ goals, purpose, abilities and restrictions. Girls Around Me does not provide any data that is unavailable to user when he uses his or her social network account, nor does it reveal any data that users did not share with others. The app was intended for facilitating discovering of great public venues nearby. The app was designed to make it easier for a user to step out of door and hang out in the city, find people with common interests and new places to go to.
Girls Around Me is without a doubt a skeezy concept, and I'm all for raising internet privacy awareness -- Girls Around Me serves as a perfect example of why you want to be mindful of what you post online. Still, I think it's a little unfair to demonize the app and its developer. They were simply making a buck with the tools that were available and addressing an obvious demand. Is there anything stopping registered Foursquare users from monitoring recent check-ins at their favourite haunts and drilling down into those profiles to find linked Facebook accounts? It seems like Girls Around Me only simplified and monetized an activity that was (and still is) possible to engage in with anyone that had Foursquare and Facebook installed on their phone. Case in point, Foursquare didn't pull the API on moralistic grounds; they explained that it was done simply because of how i-Free was displaying the data.
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.
Girls Around Me basically just made it so would-be stalkers wouldn't have to browse through each business individually, and could instead just glance at a map for recent check-ins. Even that kind of service is already available elsewhere.
There are ways to implement location-based dating without getting creepy -- namely, providing a layer of anonymity that can protect people from being spied on unless they explicitly allow access. That said, people who don't want to be tracked down shouldn't be checking in on Foursquare, and if they are, they should take some time to figure out the privacy settings.
Was Foursquare right to revoke API access to Girls Around Me? Will doing so actually improve awareness of online privacy concerns or prevent abuses?
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