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Internet-induced fear culture (or: Girls Around Me isn't the problem)

MrSeb (471333) writes | more than 2 years ago

Privacy 1

MrSeb writes "Over the weekend, a story about an iPhone app captured the attention and ire of the tech world. Girls Around Me is a simple app that takes your location, and then queries Foursquare and Facebook’s location APIs to find any girls (or boys) that are geographically close. You’re then shown a map, powered by Google, with faces (pulled from Facebook profiles) pinned to it. Clicking a face lets you see more information about the person (again pulled from Facebook). Ostensibly, you’re meant to use Girls About Me to help you decide which bar or nightclub you should visit, but of course the tech world — and even the mainstream media — is instead labeling it as a rapetastic example of the lack of privacy afforded by Facebook’s default settings. You see, Girls Around Me wasn’t hacking Foursquare or Facebook to get this information: It was using open APIs to access information that, by default, Facebook and Foursquare make public. This isn’t a new feature of either social network, of course, but Girls Around Me is just the perfect, creepy illustration of why some information — like your location — should be friends-only by default. The problem with all of these apoplectic, spittle-drenched reports about Girls Around Me is that they assume the worst. They assume that people will use this app to prey on men and women. They assume that these people are all being hoodwinked by Facebook and Foursquare into sharing their location. In short, all of these reports are predicated on the assumption that we’re living in a world that is packed with rapists. I hate to break it to you, but we’re not. The world is also not full of terrorists, or muggers, or people who will steal your children while they play in the yard. The world is probably the safest it's ever been. Crime is at a 40-year low. What Girls Around Me really shows, in my opinion, is a perfect example of the fear culture that we live in — and technology is to blame."
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Uh, No. (1)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | more than 2 years ago | (#39548393)

It always comes down to a cost/benefit analysis.

What is the benefit of telling everyone in the world my location versus what the cost of telling everyone in the world my location?

Well, seems to me there is about zero benefit and a small chance of harm. Therefore it is in no one's best interests to make their location information public.

The hardest part about this kind of analysis is quantifying exactly how much risk there is because sometimes it can only be known in retrospect - partly because the people who might abuse the information may only use it historically as in tracking where you were a week or a month or even a year ago.

The outrcy over this particular app just makes the risks more visceral. Most people are not willing to think through the full analysis so they can only get a glimpse of the risks when it is made very vivid. So you go from under-reaction to over-reaction. Seems to me that, as a society, we've been deeply in the under-reaction part of the spectrum for years now.

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