Please stalk me in the name of social discovery

Photo courtesy of: http://www.uwyo.edu/

By LAURA CLARK, News Editor

If you haven’t heard all the buzz lately about Facebook wanting to let your “friends” track where you are and what you’re doing at all times and wanting to give all your personal information to all kinds of weirdos and whatnot, allow me to give you the rundown.

Currently, Mark Zuckerberg and his pals are hard at work on a Smartphone app which will allow your friends, acquaintances, and even complete strangers to track your whereabouts at all times. The site explains that users would be sacrificing some of their privacy in return for “social discovery”.

This is the point where, firstly, I become suspicious of the words “social discovery”. What exactly is “social discovery”? Why does it sound like such a suspicious euphemism for stalking? What exactly am I sacrificing my privacy for, Facebook?

Secondly, this is the point where I make the argument that social media can get away with a whole lot more than people can in real life. In real life, if a complete stranger, or anyone for that matter, started tracking my whereabouts at all times, I wouldn’t just smile and say “Aw, how sweet that you’re “socially discovering” where I sleep at night. Thank you for your unbounded interest in my life. Let me invite you into my house so we can have tea and scones together and discuss fond childhood memories.”

No. Alternatively, I would likely run for the hills as fast as my little legs could carry me, screaming something more along the lines of, “GET AWAY FROM ME, FOOL, YOU A CRAZY CREEPER!”

But I digress.

More to the point, the major issue here is that this new Facebook app that tracks people’s whereabouts won’t violate any privacy policies. Sound illegal? Well, you’d think that, but nope. Sound creepy? Well, yes, that’s probably because it is. Which brings us to the question, when it comes to “social discovery” apps, just how creepy is too creepy? Well just sit tight, because I’m about to tell you.

A point I’d like to make right now is that social discovery apps are nothing new (sorry Facebook, you don’t get the credit for everything good). ‘Girls Around Me’, an app that was available up until last year, but was recently removed from Apple’s app store for being cited as “too creepy”, raised high levels of concern about whether the app was being used for stalking purposes. The app allowed single (or not) men to see all close by check-ins by women at bars, clubs, and other hotspots on Foursquare and Facebook (and also for women on the prowl to see where unsuspecting men were too, although the name of the app doesn’t imply that). Not surprisingly, many people complained that stalkers might use this app to their advantage. But the interesting thing about “Girls Around Me” is that is was taken off the market because it ultimately raised too many concerns about stalking–NOT because it violated any privacy policies.

So, again, just how creepy is too creepy? And how do people answer the bigger question: “Why?” Why can Facebook get away with creating these potential stalking apps? Why have we created such a divide between what’s permissible in real life and what’s permissible on social media? Facebook apps such as the ones previously mentioned give people access to the whereabouts of others that they would not be privilege to without the use of social media. The access is constant. The access to is virtually unlimited. The access is, dare I say, dangerous?

So, next time you go to the bar and check in on Facebook or Foursquare, be sure to thank Facebook and all the other creators of these apps. Because somewhere out there, someone is probably trying to “socially discover” you.

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© 2014 The Michigan Journal
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