Why you & your girlfriends should stop checking in

Checkin apps have always disturbed me. Why would I want to tell everyone in the world where I am? Call me a curmudgeon, but I like my privacy.

For those of you with a more laissez-checkin attitude toward location and privacy, have a look at this app: Girls Around Me. It lets any random creeper scan women’s public Foursquare checkins and renders a map scattered with profile pictures, allowing the aforementioned rando to stalk to his heart’s content, flipping through your photos and reading your profile data.

See this? This is why I don’t check in, not anywhere, not ever. Publicly telling the world where you live and work, where you’re going, and whom you’re with isn’t just narcissistic; it’s a very bad idea for your own personal security. And making all that data publicly available online is just asking for someone to scrape it up and make apps like these.

As an astute Cult of Mac writer notes, this should be a wake-up call to all of us — especially the ladies — about the importance of privacy, of discretion in what you post online, and of understanding how your data is being or could be used. However, I’ll wager that most of the social media-happy women already using Foursquare and similar services will be hitting the snooze button and continuing to check in.

Apps like this are not new, not by a long shot. Every now and then, I get a truly disturbing pitch from a developer — always a man, always insisting the app is “all in good fun” — who wants me to know about his checkin-tracking app for finding chicks. There are apps just like Girls Around Me for telling you the guy/girl ratio at a party (based on Facebook RSVPs); there are many apps for showing you your friends’ checkins around you. Ban.jo is one that will show you not only the location-tagged checkins, photos, and tweets from your friends; it’ll go a step further and show you all the public activity from anyone in your vicinity.

Showing women’s public checkins with the specific intention of making women into moving targets isn’t even the creepiest app idea out there. SceneTap, an absolute sewer of an application from two Chicago-based men, uses hidden cameras and facial recognition technology to determine the age and gender of unwitting people in public bars.

But did any of those apps get shut down by a barrage of vitriol from concerned citizens? Did young women stop checking in and sharing their location with anyone with a 3G connection? Hardly.

The wake-up call should have happened back when each person signed up for these services. There should have been a long, hard moment of thinking, “Why, again, do I want to share my location with anyone? And why do I want to share it publicly, not just with my friends and family?”

If we were, as a gender, going to pick a time to start being concerned about our digital privacy, we should have done so long before now. I can only hope that the spotlight currently being aimed at Girls Around Me will prevent some of the public checkin activity that allows apps like this one to be possible in the first place.

Update: Foursquare has shut off Girls Around Me’s access to its API. “This is a violation of our API policy, so we’ve reached out to the developer and shut off their API access,” a Foursquare spokesperson told the New York Times.

hat tip: Reader Gaurav Sharma for pointing out Ban.jo as a specific example

Image courtesy of Couperfield, Shutterstock


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