In case you use Facebook

Monday, April 02, 2012

... you should read this article

What looked like a April Fool's joke, I am afraid, isn't one. The application in question is known as "Girls Around Me" and is free on the iTunes app store. It is a typical stalkers app. Open the app, hit a button, and you get which all girls have logged in on Facebook or Foursquare near you! Complete with their photographs and public information!

To quote from computer journalist John Brownlee's article on how this app works,

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. 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. 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. 
It's when you push the radar button that Girls Around Me does what it says on the tin. I pressed the button for my friends. 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. Since I was showing off the app on a Saturday night, there were dozens of girls out on the town in our local area ...

In short, nobody is committing any crime, but some people are just intelligent enough to process and analyze our publicly shared information to derive 2+2=4 ! And the bigger problem is, while sharing our interests, personal information, location etc, we are not able to think that how can someone combine them to form a meaningful pattern!

As explained beautifully by Charlie Strossall social networks run on the principle that if you're not paying for the product, you are the product.

The problem is this: all social networks run on the principle that if you're not paying for the product, you are the product. They operate as profitable businesses because they encourage users to channel their social interactions via their network, perform data mining on the interests that users disclose, and present the users with advertisements tailored to their interests (which are consequently much more likely to result in a successful sale).
However, to make such micro-targeted advertising practical, the social networks need to motivate their users to disclose information relevant to advertisers. There's no point marketing bacon to Jews or Muslims, so religion is relevant. There's no point marketing turkey to vegans or wheat products to coeliacs, so dietary preferences and medical conditions are relevant. If a user is a member of a subculture associated with a distinctive clothing fashion, that information is relevant to garment vendors. And so on. So Facebook, Orkut, G+ and so on all attempt to induce their users to maximize their self-disclosure and to tie their accounts to as many useful third-party information sources as possible.
You may have noticed that Facebook provides privacy controls, for those who are sufficiently worried about stranger danger to want some illusion of control. Unfortunately the vast majority of people have no idea how widely visible "show to all" really is, or that it might enable the users of apps like "Stalking Targets Around Me" to identify and track them. And it is not in Facebook's commercial interest to promote the use of privacy controls. If someone is using the privacy controls with all the settings jacked up to 11, it becomes very unlikely that long-lost friends and relatives will be able to make contact with them through Facebook. Which is a lost advertising opportunity, and therefore detrimental to the revenue stream.
We are encouraged to over-share, for commercial reasons (just as we are encouraged to over-consume, but that's an issue for another time). We are discouraged from imposing reasonable limits on access to our shared information, again, for commercial reasons. (And the mechanism employed for discouragement is a combination of benign neglect and ignorance on the one hand, with behavioural marketing on the other—"if you tell us where and when you went to school we can put you in touch with your long-lost high school friends!")
Enough said... Facebook is Evil !
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