Tag: e-f

Don’t Blame The App. Blame The Ecosystem.

by on Apr.02, 2012, under general

Over the weekend John Brownlee’s posted an article entitled This Creepy App Isn’t Just Stalking Women Without Their Knowledge, It’s A Wake-Up Call About Facebook Privacy to CultOfMac. It detailed an app called “Girls Around Me”, which used publicly available data from the Facebook and Foursquare APIs to locate nearby girls and provide would-be pickup artists with their pictures, interests, and information.

The story blew up over the weekend, with summaries on Slashdot, Gizmodo, and BoingBoing. Within hours Foursquare killed the app’s access to it’s location information too.

In the immediate term this constitutes a win for Facebook privacy – something about which I’ve blogged extensively.

In the long term, though, it doesn’t fix anything. The problem is not the app, creepy as it may have been; the problem is the ecosystem which the app inhabits, the nutrients which support it, the root system upon which it draws for sustenance and support.

The problem, in other words, is that we have a design and information paradigm in which there is poor understanding among users about how and to whom their information is available, and a poor understanding by tech companies about how to design spaces in a manner which enables contextual integrity.

Shutting down “Girls Around Me” is akin to a gardener cutting off the head of a dandelion. It removes the most evident, colorful, obvious problem – but underneath the weed remains, and soon grows anew. Brownlee gets this. Hopefully others will too.

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