Sure, on the surface, it looks like a hook-up app like Grindr for potential stalkers and date rapists, but all that Girls Around Me is really doing is using public APIs… Moreover, the girls (and men!) shown in Girls Around Me all had the power to opt out of this information being visible to strangers, but whether out of ignorance, apathy or laziness, they had all neglected to do so. This was all public information. Nothing Girls Around Me does violates any of Apple’s policies.
“It’s not, really, that we’re all horrified by what this app does, is it?” I asked, finishing my drink. “It’s that we’re all horrified by how exposed these girls are, and how exposed services like Facebook and Foursquare let them be without their knowledge.”
I’ve seen this blog post shared on Twitter a few times over the last day, generally without much critical commentary attached. So I thought it would be opportune to provide some analysis from the perspective of a woman in her 20s who uses social media.
I’ve never used Facebook Places, but I have a Foursquare account which I’ve used on and off over the last couple of years, depending on whether I feel like it’s worth my time. It’s a public account. It has my name on it. It’s linked to my public Twitter account, which is linked to my blog, and so on.
And so if I check in to a place on Foursquare, I assume my location is public knowledge. I wouldn’t be shocked if someone I’d never met before came to introduce themselves and said “I’ve seen your name online”. It’s happened before.
Why does the author of this blog post think that “girls” are necessarily telling strangers where they are out of “ignorance, apathy or laziness”? Is it possible a woman could make her location public as a deliberate act?
“It looks like Zoe is my kind of girl. From her photo albums, I can see that she likes to party, and given the number of guys she takes photos with at bars and clubs at night, I can deduce that she’s frisky when she’s drunk, and her favorite drink is a frosty margarita. She appears to have recently been in Rome. Also, since her photo album contains pictures she took at the beach, I now know what Zoe looks like in a bikini… which, as it happens, is pretty damn good.”
In this paragraph and throughout the article, women are spoken about as if they are devoid of all agency. The word “girl” frames them as vulnerable. The question of whether women know as much about social network APIs as the author is breezily dismissed with a “probably not“—even as he makes a pretty basic mistake about how Foursquare works.
And it is taken for granted that a man, armed with the knowledge of where a woman went to high school and a photo of her in a bikini, will be able to charm his way into her life/pants. Zoe is apparently frisky when drunk, and if not, “there are—let’s see—nine other girls at the Independent tonight.”
I feel as if we’re not giving Zoe or the other “girls” at the Independent much credit here. Maybe they have dealt with creepy men before? They are old enough to be out at a bar, after all.
This is an app you should download to teach the people you care about that privacy issues are real, that social networks like Facebook and Foursquare expose you and the ones you love, and that if you do not know exactly how much you are sharing, you are as easily preyed upon as if you were naked.
In the 21st century—at least in the circles I mix in—it’s considered pretty offensive to suggest a woman is asking for rape by wearing clothes that expose her body.
Yet the undercurrent of discourse around this article appears to be that posting your location online is a form of “exposure” that women would not consent to if they were informed of the risks.
Certainly it’s a good thing for everyone to be aware of the privacy policies of social networks they use, and how personal data can be shared with strangers.
But surely we all deserve the right to exist in public, and to tell people about it, if that’s what we choose to do.
And if there is a risk that a woman is “preyed upon”, surely the priority should be to change the behaviour of the predator, rather than to find new ways to blame the victim?