stalking? yeah, there’s an app for that too.

Spy agency stalking is now as easy as paying a dollar for an app. We really didn't think this ubiquitous wireless connectivity thing through at all, did we?

shaking city surreal

With the popularity of social media sites that now let you announce your location at any given time to much of the world, one would think that applications that track there you physically are wouldn’t be such a big deal. It’s not like you didn’t want everyone to know that you frequent Big Bob’s House of Nachos so much, you’ve been appointed its mayor on Foursquare. That’s why you pulled out the smartphone and checked in as you strolled into the doors, right? Well, what you might not want people to know is that you may as well be the emperor of the nearby strip club or that you weren’t really sick last week, but really wanted to take time off work to arrange a three day road trip with your friends. But guess what? Now there’s an app that lets others stalk you and you might not be able to remove it from your phone. And as long as that phone of yours is on, whoever installed a digital equivalent of a ball and chain on it knows where you are. Trust? There’s apparently no app for that and I’m certainly not seeing any plans for one. I thought we were supposed to be outraged about how much data about our comings and goings gets stored on smartphones and how long mobile companies will keep it…

Technically, the app in question, Footprints, is designed to track where your kids go. Far be it from me to tell a parent how to raise his or her kids, but some cases just cry out for a comment. If you genuinely think that your child should be treated pretty much the same way the FBI and the CIA track spies and suspicious individuals who may lead them to terrorists or foreign saboteurs, and if you’re willing to abuse geolocation technology for your personal peace of mind, you have officially transcended helicopter parenting and are acting like a prison warden. If you deem your kid old enough to have a phone and to be let out of the house on his or her own, is a tracking device really necessary? Aren’t what you saying to your child equivalent to “yeah, I trust you to enjoy a night out of the house but I don’t trust you to be responsible for your own actions and will digitally stalk you as you’re trying to have fun with your friends?” How will children ever learn to be responsible if their parents treat them the same way some jurisdictions are treating convicted criminals and refuse to let them make some decisions on their own? How would you even think of safely sending your kids to college if you never allowed them to make their own decisions? How well do you think they’ll fare on their own after that?

Really, technology allows you to do a lot of things but it doesn’t mean that you should do them. There are only a few open source applications one would need to download to hack into people’s social media profiles and pilfer enough information to successfully commit identity fraud, and they’re all freely available on the web. You can buy a software factory to build your own viruses. You can hijack the way some operating systems show or hide their command prompts to stealthily install software behind people’s backs. But again, just because you can do all that doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily good, much less something you should be doing. And for all the damage poor security and a little hacking can do nowadays, such tracking applications are far worse. It’s not just that they allow people to stalk each other but because they encourage mistrust and overreach, telling parents and implying to businesses and couples that it’s a-ok to spy on each other. Give them a dollar and in just a few seconds you can be a private eye, tracking every movement of those you are supposed to trust and whose independence you’re at least supposed to try and acknowledge. We get so bent out of shape when an alphabet soup of government agencies use similar tools on people of whom they’re suspicious and yet, we’ll let someone offer each other the very same capabilities in a smartphone app store? Why?

An even more disconcerting scenario for using Footprints would be to stealthily install it on the phone of your significant other or spouse, even if the person does nothing wrong and has nothing to hide. The trust issues alone make those actions a red flag for any relationship. Come to think of it, finding Footprints on your phone and proof that your significant other put it there should be the beginning of the end for that relationship. Such a blatant misuse of what was supposed to be a technology intended for emergency services to locate you were your 911 call get disconneted just feeds into the mentality of “if you have nothing to hide, you won’t mind these intrusions into your life,” a mentality we should be exorcising rather than enabling for pathologically paranoid control freaks out there. It’s one thing to sell an app allowing kids to send an emergency location flag to their parents in case they feel that they’re in danger, or to send your location to your loved ones just for the sake of making it convenient for them to program their GPS and come join you. But it’s completely unethical to sell an incredibly handy tool for stalkers and control freaks to put a virtual leash on you without your permission.

# tech // geolocation / mobile apps / smartphones / stalking

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