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“Boy, you sure have a lot of apps on your phone.”“Well, it’s my job.”“What’s your favorite? But hey, want to see one to set your skin crawling? “Don’t show them that.”She turned to our friends, apologetically.“He’s become obsessed with this app.”It was the flush end of a pleasurably hot day — 85 degrees in March — and we were all sipping bitter cocktails out in my friend’s backyard, which was both his smoking room, beer garden, viticetum, opossum parlor and barbecue pit. It’s become obsessed with Girls Around Me, an app that perfectly distills many of the most worrying issues related to social networking, privacy and the rise of the smartphone into a perfect case study that anyone can understand. It is as innocent as it is insidious; it is just as likely to be reacted to with laughter as it is with tears; it is as much of a novelty as it has the potential to be used a tool for rapists and stalkers.
The only way to really explain Girls Around Me to people is to load it up and show them how it works, so I did.I placed my i Phone on the table in front of everyone, and opened the app. It’s such a bitmap paean to the tackiest and most self-parodying of baller “culture”; it might as well be an app Tom Haverford slapped together in .But it does, at a glance, sum up what Girls Around Me is all about: a radar overlaid on top of a Google Map, out of which throbs numerous holographic women posing like pole dancers in a perpetual state of undress.“Okay, so here’s the way the app works,” I explained to my friends.Girls Around Me is a standard geolocation based maps app, similar to any other app that attempts to alert you to things of interest in your immediate vicinity: whether it be parties, clubs, deals, or what have you. She works at a coffee shop, and I’m pretty sure she doesn’t moonlight picking up tricks.”“How does it know where these girls are? Is it plucking data from your address book or something? These are all girls with publicly visible Facebook profiles who have checked into these locations recently using Foursquare.When you load it up, the first thing Girls Around Me does is figure out where you are and load up a Google Map centered around your location. Girls Around Me then shows you a map where all the girls in your area trackable by Foursquare area.The rest of the interface is very simple: in the top left corner, there’s a button that looks like a radar display, at the right corner, there’s a fuel meter (used to fund the app’s freemium model), and on the bottom left is a button that allows you to specify between whether you’re interested in women, men or both. If there’s more than one girl at a location, you see the number of girls there in a red bubble.
It’s when you push the radar button that Girls Around Me does what it says on the tin. Immediately, Girls Around Me went into radar mode, and after just a few seconds, the map around us was filled with pictures of girls who were in the neighborhood. ” one of my friends asked, which given the Matrix-like silhouettes posing on the splash screen was a pretty good question.“Oh, no,” I replied. Click on that, and you can see pictures of all the girls who are at that location at any given time. The settings determining how visible your Facebook and Foursquare data is are complicated, and tend to be meaningless to people who don’t really understand issues about privacy,” I explained.Since I was showing off the app on a Saturday night, there were dozens of girls out on the town in our local area.“Wait… The pictures you are seeing are their social network profile pictures.”“Okay, so they that their data can be used like this for anyone to see? “Most privacy settings on social networks default to share everything with everyone, and since most people never change those…well, they end up getting sucked up into apps like this.”“But they know they’ve checked in, right? Foursquare lets you check other people into a location.If you get checked into Foursquare by a friend without your knowledge and have a publicly visible Facebook profile, you could end up in here.” (Update: Apparently, I wasn’t correct about this.Foursquare does NOT allow you to check other people in with you without their knowledge; I was confusing Foursquare for Facebook, which does offer this functionality. – JRB)One of my less computer-affable friends actually went pale, and kept on shooting her boyfriend looks for assurance.A Linux aficionado who was the only person in our group without a Facebook account (and one of the few people I’d ever met who actually endorsed Diaspora), the look he returned was one of comical smugness.“But wait! ” I said, ramping things up.“So let’s say I’m a bro, looking to go out for a night on the town and pick someone up.