Controversial 'Girls Around Me' app scrapped after outcry

The Russian company behind the controversial Girls Around Me mobile application that allowed users to track the locations of nearby women pulled its funding on Thursday after an outcry from privacy advocates.

The app allowed users to find out the location of nearby women by scanning publicly available data on social network FourSquare. The app also included information from the women's public Facebook profiles.

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"Girls Around Me scans your surroundings and helps you find out where girls or guys are hanging out. You can also see the ratio of girls to guys in different places around you," the company explained on its promotional website for the app.

Although the information was all publicly available, the women were not necessarily aware that Girls Around Me was using it. Users could change the settings to search for men, but it was set to women as the default. 

A number of blogs and privacy advocates accused the app of invading people's privacy and warned it could be dangerous. The Cult of Mac blog called the app "creepy" and said it could be a "weapon in the hands of stalkers." 

"[Girls Around Me] perfectly distills many of the most worrying issues related to social networking, privacy and the rise of the smartphone into a perfect case study that anyone can understand," Cult of Mac wrote.

FourSquare cut off the app's access to its social network on Saturday. A FourSquare spokeswoman said the app had violated the company's terms of service. Apple also pulled the app from its iTunes store.

In a statement, i-Free, the Russian company that had funded Girls Around Me, emphasized that the app only used publicly available information but that the company decided to shut it down because of the "negative public reaction."

“We think that Girls Around Me inadvertently stepped over the line that divides useful products and unethical attempt to manipulate with people’s sense of safety," Kirill Petrov, co-founder of i-Free, said in a statement. "Although I personally believe that increasing openness is an inevitable part of the modern, connected world, I do acknowledge that the marketing and placement of this product as a dating aid is unethical and plays upon primitive feelings."

The company said it would halt funding of the app until the development team can "create a new product that considers all the criticism expressed" about Girls Around Me.

Erica Newland, a policy analyst for the Center for Democracy and Technology, said the controversy over the app should remind users that information they share publicly on social networking sites can be accessed by people other than just their friends.

"[The app] showed how important it is that we are really, really careful when we make information publicly available on the Internet," she said. 

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