Statement concerning the mobile application Girls Around Me
April 5, 2012
St. Petersburg, Russia.
CEO i-Free Innovations:
Dear Sir or Madam,
In view of the concerns raised over the dangers ascribed to the Girls Around Me mobile application that have recently become so numerous, I would like to make some important clarifications on behalf of i-Free which, I hope, will be of interest to your audience.
First of all, I would like to mention that the application in question was created by a team at a startup company called Places Around Me, acquired as a venture project by the i-Free Ventures foundation, established by i-Free. That is, i-Free was only indirectly involved in the creation of this application; however in the circumstances we feel it necessary to make our views on the issue clear.
The developers of Girls Around Me created a product designed to facilitate searching and viewing nearby recreation and entertainment venues, to make the search process more focused, and to help young people find the most popular places and people with similar interests.
The application was developed without any specific gender bias, and its name, as well as the James Bond-style design, were chosen purely for marketing reasons. We now understand that this may have been a misstep, as this has provoked a negative response from some mass media sources and, subsequently, from many people. So, disregarding the fact that we have never before received any negative feedback from the users that have downloaded Girls Around Me – and by the moment the app was removed from App Store there were more than 70 000 of them – nor anyone they had demonstrated the app to, we would like to offer our sincere apologies to everybody who felt this application might compromise their safety or cause offense.
However, we have to take issue with the popular misconception that characterizes Girls Around Me as an application concerned with distributing private information. Girls Around Me used only the data of Foursquare users freely available through social networks API. There were no attempts to extract any data protected by privacy settings. That is to say, any Foursquare user could see other users’ public information, and our application served only to simplify this task.
Of course, any application using the API of other services can be used by those with unsavory motives. That is why we believe that social services involved with personal information do require some careful consideration from users and recognition of the fact that the moment any data not protected with strict privacy settings is published online, it automatically becomes available to everybody interested in it.
We understand that today there are many concerns with the issue of private information security: Apple, Google, Facebook and also Foursquare have already faced accusations of violating users’ privacy. Still, our opinion is that it is not the services themselves that cause the problem, but rather the fact that many users fail to consider carefully the private information they want to publish.
On the other hand, we also have to take into account the fact that a considerable proportion of the global online community is consciously choosing to be more open in their communications and it would be wrong to forcefully restrict their choice due to an assumption of their ignorance, laziness or carelessness. It was once considered socially unacceptable for an adult woman to appear outdoors without a chaperone. Standards of social behavior are constantly changing. We feel that society is unlikely to benefit from the imposition of moral codes based on fear and prejudice about what it means to be open.
We do not want to overstate the issue. I believe that in time the situation will settle down – as soon as the community outgrows the problem. Many people have only started using social networks relatively recently and that is why some still do not have a clear understanding of the scope of data they want to make public and the contexts in which this data can be used.
Every innovation is a new experience and every new experience can be expected to arouse media controversy and feelings of insecurity in many people. This was the case with the first train, the first car, and the first airplane. But as the advantages and future prospects become obvious people learn to embrace technical innovation and minimize possible risks.
It is impossible to try and stop progress and there can be no doubts that geo-location services as well as social networks and mobile applications will continue to grow, develop and increase in numbers. The number of applications aggregating information from various sources is also bound to increase: they now have a high demand in all fields – from looking for a job to selecting the best price for goods and services. In this ecosystem, user data published in open resources including social networks is likely to be used by other companies. Today, many companies have started using social networks data while hiring personnel, analyzing customer’s ability to pay and in many other cases that the users might not have had in mind at the moment they made their data public. This is our reality today and we must learn how to live with it.
The controversy surrounding Girls Around Me has brought us some important insights. Any product that arouses such negative feelings is unlikely to be successful in the mass market and, as we have understood, the positioning of the Girls Around Me app has provoked a mixed reaction. That is why in view of the circumstances, we have decided to stop funding this project in its current state.
i-Free has been working in the Russian and global markets for more than ten years and offers about 20 high-quality applications for various mobile platforms. In a highly competitive market, quite a number of our apps enjoy a high App Store or Google Play rating and they all have positive feedback from the customers. A number of them have won awards. We trust that our experience and competence will help prevent the recurrence of situations like the one concerning Girls Around Me, and we would like to thank everybody for participating in the discussion.
With best regards,
CEO, i-Free Innovations.
Kirill Petrov`s photo you can find here.
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