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No, Girls Around Me really is creepy

Oh, Forbes. Twice in two weeks? You'd better not print something silly next week, or we're all going to look bad.

Oh, Forbes. Twice in two weeks? You'd better not print something silly next week, or we're all going to look bad.

(Credit: i-Free)

This time it's Kashmir Hill, and she has an important lesson for all of us. We were, she tells us, making a huge song-and-dance about nothing with the Girls Around Me app.

If you missed the drama, Girls Around Me is an iPhone app that pulled data from Foursquare to let you find women in your vicinity, just out having a good time, who happened to have checked in to the Facebook service. Not illegal, but a bit grotesque when you think about it, and problematic for a number of reasons.

And many news reports focused on how it highlighted how public some social-networking services are.

Says Hill:

How do we know that the women who could be found on this map did not want to be visible in this way?

We don't. But since they were located without their knowledge, you can't assume they would have been happy about it, either. Like any service, it should be opt-in. That way, people can choose either way. Seems fair, right? If they do, as Hill asserts, want to be found, then they have chosen to be found. The people located by Girls Around Me opted into Foursquare — not an app that uses its API.

Hill then used Blendr as a reason why Girls Around Me is A-OK.

Oh look. Blendr is opt-in.

Many of us have become comfortable putting ourselves out there publicly in the hopes of making connections with friends and with strangers, whether through Facebook, Twitter or OKCupid. It's only natural that this digital openness will transfer over to the 'real world', and that we will start proactively projecting our digital selves to facilitate in-person interactions.

Good, OK. Again, you chose to do that. Wait, what's that word? Proactive?

Ah, but she gets to choices.

The women 'exposed' by Girls Around Me have chosen to be on Foursquare, and the company tells me that the app was only able to pull up a woman's Facebook profile if she chose to link it to her Foursquare account.

Can she not see her own words? Argh. As Hill pointed out, there are options available where people can opt in to being found. Girls Around Me is not one of them. These people did not choose to be part of a community.

OK, moving on.

And we make the ugly assumption that men who might want to check out women in the area have nefarious intentions.

That's actually a decent point. Not every man is a predator, and socialising with the opposite gender is fun. If you want to meet people, an app for meeting people sounds reasonable.

If those people want to be met.

And we're forgetting the app's marketing.

From the app's web page:

"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..."

Yes, that doesn't encourage men to treat women as sexual objects at all. Neither does the fact that it's called Girls Around Me, even though you can also use it to find men — a fact that's conveniently pushed aside in all the app's screenshots and logos as well.

But critics, also remember that some of us have thought about our privacy settings, chosen accordingly, and don't mind showing up on geo-mapping apps. We're not all damsels-in-distress going pale at the thought of being seen in public places and digital spaces.

That's good for you, I suppose. Don't suggest that just because you're OK with it, everyone else should be. It's OK that Hill is comfortable with companies using her information without her knowledge or consent. Many women are not. And unless Girls Around Me had some way of notifying women that they were appearing on its maps, they had no way of knowing that they were.

It's really easy. Opt-in, every time. Let individuals decide for themselves.