A friend of mine posted this link last night about a currently unavailable app called Girls Around Me. The writer of the blog/review recounts telling a group of friends about an app which allowed someone to find people with public facebook profiles in a certain geographic radius. These didn’t have to be people on a friend’s list, but anyone who had logged onto facebook from their iphone, basically allowing the user to see facebook users nearby and view their profiles, though it could be set to locate boys, girls or both. Predictably, the boys of the group thought it was funny while the girl’s thought it was invasive and upsetting. The rationale for the female apprehension was that a guy could find a cute girl at a bar, look at her pics to see what kind of drinks she likes, what some of her interests are and where she is at a certain moment so that he could go intercept her and come off as Mr. Right, either through slick conversation of liberally applied “frosty margaritas.”
By the article’s end, the writer describes how his friends, males included, were all uneasy about the invasiveness of the app, and describes how its main function in his eyes was to hammer home the importance of being aware of your facebook privacy settings, and online privacy in general. I don’t take issue with this conclusion, and the company which created the app maintains that people could always have adjusted their privacy settings. Rather what I take issue with is the knee-jerk reaction to this technology because it is misdirected, as I find most indignation typically is.
The girls in the article took issue with Apple and Facebook for allowing this app to be created and sold, and of course with the potential rapists and stalkers who would undoubtedly try and use it to rape and stalk more efficiently. Because if there is anything the ambitious rape/stalker values it is maximizing his preying to prowling ratio.
In the case of the FB/Apple rage and the uproar which ultimately caused the app to be shut down: is this really the answer? App censorship? Making something illegal or removing it entirely is not the proper way to deal with a problem but that logic seems to dominate any thinking about problem resolution. If we ban enough potentially offensive (or actually offensive) things, will the ne’er-do-wells among us, constantly biding their time waiting to pounce, finally get the message that we don’t appreciate the threat they pose and leave us alone? Of course not. When has a law or a ban or a removal of something ever stopped or curtailed undesired behaviours and interests? But clamoring for new rules is a lot easier than taking time to think critically and address causes I suppose.
With regard to the so-called “stalkers and rapists” whom this app served as an enabler for, I have to ask: has this app really been that much of a boon?, and do they even really exist? Now I don’t mean to downplay the problem of rape and obsessive behaviours like stalking, and I am not claiming anything like the stats being overblown because I don’t know the stats and frankly even one incident is too many. But still, do these people really exist? I don’t question the possibility that given a certain sequence of events, moods, and opportunities that rapes can happen. But when people talk about rapists and other criminals like them, their rhetoric always seems to allude to a shadowy group which is constantly watchful in alleys outside of clubs, waiting for an unescorted girl in a miniskirt and wobbly with booze to swoop in on.
Certainly to such a group as this, Girls Around Me would be a boon, revolutionizing the rape game by allowing the predator a menu of sorts, but I question the very existence of this secretive cabal of rapists and stalkers.
Now remember who is saying this: I am someone who has no problem believing that there are certain powers which pull strings behind the curtains and who are the true controllers of the world we think our “democratically elected” leaders run, however I can’t co-sign the prospect that there are rapists everywhere among us**, and certainly I can’t co-sign the idea that they are legion.
Well, one exception comes to mind…
When I hear criticisms of this technology, I see fear that is not unfounded but misdirected. People are so worried about the implications of technology that they will still use anyway because it is actually amazing and has the potential to be incredibly useful if everyone completely opened their privacy settings. But we can’t because we have reason to fear being completely open with strangers: why?
Again we come back to “why,” my oft-asked favourite question. Why should we be afraid of other people? Like I said, the fear, though overblown, is not unfounded. Why might someone use this or any technology to hurt us?
To those like me who fear institutions more than their fellow man: why would you be afraid of an organization or government using this or any social media to spy on you or data-mine you? Why would they want to data-mine and spy in the first place?
In my head it is clear that these potential misappropriations of technology in no way reflect poorly on the technology or its creator, but rather on the system which puts us at odds with each other to the point where we would use potentially beneficial creations as weapons. If you think about it, all technologies are neutral, yet they get blamed for misuse and the violence which is integral to the system which applies them.
Think I’m full of shit? Mebbe, but let me quickly demonstrate how any technology can be hijacked for violent purposes:
What’s more wholesome and beneficial than a toothbrush? It conjures up images of young children learning hygiene and taking charge of their dental health. But to some, this revolutionary technology has far more sinister applications:
Arguably one of the greatest pieces of technology ever created. Allows us to solidify ideas on paper and gives us something to chew on when stumped. But it can be repurposed…