The app “Girls Around Me” is causing quite the furor, and the backlash has gone so far that Apple has pulled it from its U.S. App Store and FourSquare has revoked its access.
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Still, the application combines publicly available information, including FourSquare checkins, Facebook profiles, and Google maps to show you pictures and Facebook information of women in your area.
As Vincent Chow pointed out in his article, Girls Around Me didn’t actually make any private information public; all the information was already public. It also didn’t do anything other apps don’t do. Instead, Girls Around Me got in trouble for its marketing. It got in trouble because it sounds bad.
So as engineers, why do we care?
With the plethora of public APIs and the ubiquity of social computing, there is a lot of information easily and readily available. The technical barriers to apps like this are very low. It’s possible to put together an application that displays a lot of information very publicly in an afternoon or a weekend.
But just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should do something.
That’s the lesson of Girls Around Me. Yes, it’s completely technically feasible to do a lot of things, but some of those things are pretty darn creepy. When you’re doing something, take a few seconds and ask yourself: is this cool or is this creepy? Then go ask three friends. If it’s cool, you’ll know. If it’s creepy, don’t do it.
Yes, we can. Now we have to ask if we should.