Full disclosure: When I heard of the app Girls Around Me, I wasn’t just extra pissed and horrified that it exists–I was also a little freaked out.
About a year ago, some creeps I’d never met looked up my name and found old pictures of me from my prom–then emailed me nonstop. I didn’t have the photos on any of my own accounts, and I wasn’t tagged in them anywhere else, but these scary dudes still somehow got a hold of them, which was extra frightening because some of them were taken outside of my house. Theoretically, these freaks could have figured out where I lived. I freaked out for a minute or two, then put pretty much every imaginable social network on lockdown (and even changed my Facebook picture to Grimace for a year).
Girls Around Me makes it easier than ever for people to, in essence, stalk you. It combines your Facebook data with a GPS locator and Google Maps to let complete strangers know where you are at any given time. (Girls Around Me used to also incorporate Foursquare check-ins, but Foursquare has since banned the app from accessing its data in light of privacy issues.) Complete strangers can access your photo galleries, check-ins, and find out where you’ve been recently. As a result, strangers may approach you at the supermarket, the mall, or at your job–and it won’t be random. It will be planned, because they knew you were there from this stupid, stalker-friendly App Store purchase. The worst part? You can’t opt in or out of Girls Around Me. This is all done whether you like it or not, and you receive no notifications that you’re being tracked. Another icky thing? The icons for girls on the app are super sexualized–everywhere a girl shows up, a silhouette of a seemingly naked woman shows up. GAH-ROSS.
Thankfully, there are ways to protect yourself from these creeps. Take a look at how your profile appears to the public by going to your profile page, clicking the tiny flowery shaped icon next to the “Activity Log” button, and hitting down to “View As.” If anything seems out of whack, you can disable or customize who can see your Facebook check-ins (click here to do that right now) and adjust your settings to approve tags before they become public. You can also make your photos, personal information, and status updates private or customized (friends only, designated only for certain friends lists, or completely private). The new Timeline format can make this a bit tricky or time consuming, but there are some tips here to help. And never, ever feel bad about blocking anyone who you have a weird feeling about!
Do you have Foursquare? Is your Facebook private or public? Have you ever been cyberstalked? Do you think Girls Around Me could ever be useful? What tips and tricks do you use to stay safe online? Let us know in the comments!