Those of you who pay attention to other tech news sources may have heard of the controversy surrounding the app “Girls Around Me,” which took location-based checkins to a creepy level, allowing you to see grabbed public check-ins from Facebook and Foursquare of girls that are around you. Apple has since removed the app from the app store.
The startup was funded by i-Free, a St. Petersburg based venture fund, which we covered the funding of last July. The app itself was created by a team at a startup company called Places By Me, which aimed to help people find the more popular leisure venues. But rather than sticking to its model, the application pivoted to the Girls Around Me angle, which the company and i-Free claims had no particular gender bias.
i-Free backed up their company’s position saying that the application didn’t scrape or distribute any information protected by individuals’ privacy settings, “making monitoring or stalking people likewise impossible.” But with the controversy, i-Free says they will halt the project’s funding. In a way, the public statement and press release says “we didn’t do anything that bad, people should understand what happens when you post public information online, but still we’re halting the funding of the project.”
“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. 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. In spite of it being a complex situation for us, I am glad that the media attention towards this product has raised the question of privacy in social networks and has served to remind people about the risks connected with the publicity of the data placed at such resources,” said Kirill Petrov, co-founder of i-Free.
Is their truth to their statement? Sure. But I don’t see any good reason why any legitimate venture fund would back out of funding a creepy product only because of the “negative reaction… recently provoked among potential users.”