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Girls Around Me: What They Could Have Done (and What You Should Do in a Similar Situation)


By Ivana (Ivy) Gutierrez, April 14, 2012

I don’t know if you guys are familiar with the Girls Around Me app for iPhone. It sat in the iTunes Store for months and after it got some attention, it was pulled from the store. Here’s why.

This application pulled information on people’s location from Foursquare and Facebook, put it all together in a nice little package with the person’s photo, profile info and location and placed it on a map. While using the application, you could discover people in your vicinity: where they are and who they were.

3 problems

Doesn’t sound too bad, right? Well, here are the problems:

1. It did not allow users to opt-in for the service.

Your data was collected from other social networks and it showed on a map, but you had no idea a stranger could find you like that. Sure, people left that data publicly, but maybe not because they intended to do that. Maybe they just did not know how the data was displayed or how to change it.

2. It was marketed as a tool for finding women, not people.

The application’s default settings were for finding women. The website advertised that with the app you could “browse photos of lovely local ladies and tap their thumbnail to find out more about them” whether you were “in the mood for love, or just after a one-night stand“.

However, in his statement to the Wall Street Journal, Russian app developer i-Free Invovation said:

Girls Around Me app was designed to make geo-social exploration of popular venues easy and visual.

One would not think that after seeing the website and a silhouette of a naked lady.

3. It did not respect Foursquare’s rules.

Laura Covington, a Foursquare spokeswoman, said in statement: “This is a violation of our API policy, so we’ve reached out to the developer and shut off their API access.” After Foursquare blocked the app’s access to their API, the application started giving error messages to users. The developers pulled the app from the iTunes Store, until a new solution to provide full service is found.

What do you wanna be when you grow up?

It is quite normal for teenagers to have this problem, but an app shouldn’t. If you are building an application, then you should know what you want it to be, even if you are unsure of how it will evolve. Girls Around Me could, in my opinion, be two different apps:

  • a tool for finding popular venues, as the developer said it was meant to be
  • a dating app (be it true love or a one night stand), as it was marketed to be

Since it was not supposed to be a dating app, I will not entertain that idea and let’s concentrate on how this could have been a good tool for finding popular venues close to you.

The solution

1. Don’t show people’s information (Duh!)

If the point of the application is to see where people are, it would be quite enough to show a number of people at a certain venue. One does not need to see Facebook profiles that are filled with personal information.

On the FAQ page the developer says they are not using personal information, but only publicly available information. I beg to differ. Information can be personal whether it is publicly available or not. For example, my name and my email address is my personal information. It is simply a fact and it does change if I choose to display them publicly or keep them private.

And of course, whenever we add Facebook into a debate about protecting our privacy, it becomes a tricky question because it:

  • often changes its privacy settings and forces the users to close their profiles by themselves; and to check regularly that it stayed that way
  • has an abundance of personal information, from our contact information down to our family members

If a user wants to register and show their information on the app, why not? Let them pick if they want to display their name or alias, their photo or link their whole Facebook profile. But make it their choice.

2. Market it as what it is.

Remove the naked girl silhouette. That makes it seem as if the app should be used to find striptease bars, or to locate strippers available for hire, and that is not the case. One could just ask Siri and she will provide the fastest route to the closest gentleman’s club.

Don’t focus on women. Both men and women go out and both men and women go to parties. You are looking for a spot that has mixed genders and there is no need to focus on tracking women down. This application was called “creepy” and referenced to as “a stalking app” exactly because of that.

Don’t promise hook-ups. If you’re not a dating app, don’t advertise “finding love or one night stands”. Especially because the other part of that equation is not aware of what is going on.

3. Follow the rules.

If you are going to build an application that needs something else to function, make sure you are following their rules. Cult of Mac did some digging and found out that Girls Around Me “was killed because it allowed you to track women without their knowledge or consent at more than one venue at a time.”

The developers should focus on working around this problem, because if one has to check venue by venue, it defeats the purpose of the application. This is the kind of thing that should be figured out before one spends their time and money into building an app.


Author:

Ivana (Ivy) Gutierrez

Our Executive Editor Ivy is a graduate student at University of Zagreb where she is studying Communicology and Journalism. She is interested in PR and all things digital. More information is available on her website Ivy's ink drops.

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