"Girls Around Me" iPhone App Gets Pulled

Privacy concerns force i-Free to retract services, developer now disgruntled

Shrouded in controversy after a negative report emerged this weekend citing privacy concerns, an application that allowed people to spot nearby girls has been pulled from the App Store.

Used by Cultofmac.com’s John Brownlee as an example of just how ignorant we are when we make our Facebook profiles public, Girls Around Me raises an important question: can this type of service be used by stalkers and rapists to get what they’re after?

The answer is indisputably “yes,” as Brownlee explains in a follow-up post making a bad case for developer i-Free whose argument was that they should’t have been forced to pull their software from the App Store.

The author had clarified that it wasn’t the app to blame, but the status quo of social networks and how little we know about their ability to expose us when we’re least expected.

The app got pulled this weekend (by the developer itself) because Foursquare promptly denied access to its APIs as the Cultofmac report had started to gain traction. i-Free tried to defend itself via this statement (excerpts):

“We understand that privacy is a serious matter. We were planning to continue developing the app and limit it to showing only public places and venues. We understand that user generated data might not reflect the real public or private user space (a user can indicate his private space as public and vice versa), but we intended to bring our best effort to work on the available APIs to develop filters to limit user access only to public venues shared by other users.


“Girls Around Me does not allow anonymous usage of the app. It is impossible to search for a particular person in this app, or track his|her location. The app just allows the user to browse the venues nearby, as if you passed by and looked in the window.”

“We are absolutely convinced that it is good and important to educate the users to take care of their privacy and what they share publicly. But we believe it is unethical to pick a scapegoat to talk about the privacy concerns. We see this wave of negative as a serious misunderstanding of the apps’ goals, purpose, abilities and restrictions. Girls Around Me does not provide any data that is unavailable to user when he uses his or her social network account, nor does it reveal any data that users did not share with others. The app was intended for facilitating discovering of great public venues nearby. The app was designed to make it easier for a user to step out of door and hang out in the city, find people with common interests and new places to go to.

We have removed the application from the iTunes Store, because the users get repetitive error message, and we feel that until we find a solution and be able to provide full service, we should restrain from acquiring new users. We shall put our best effort to support the apps existing users and address their concerns.

We are working on providing all necessary comments and data to prove our good intentions. We were (and are) making our best efforts to develop an app that fits user expectations without going beyond the restrictions of social networks.”

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