A key tactic taught in women's self defense classes / seminars is to harden the target e.g. look pissed, stay off the phone while walking to your car, shoulders back/head high. All good advice for both sexes. But in the age of location based social media apps where you can broadcast to the world where you;re eating lunch, or getting drunk, such as FourSquare, Facebook mobile, Twitter, Gowalla, Loopt, Yelp. I could keep going, but you get the point.
What I haven't seen of heard of being taught is the skill of remaining inconspicuous; unseen; hard to find. An article in the San Jose Mercury News brought to my attention a mobile app dubbed 'Girls Around Me'. This app works much like the AroundMe app that us iPhone users have come to love, but Girls Around Me serves a more nefarious purpose. Let's say I'm looking for a gas station nearby, AroundMe provides me with a list of gas stations based on proximity to my mobile device.
Girls Around Me works the same way. According to the Mercury News article, Girls Around Me mashes up data from a number of social networks (that is available to app developers) and uses the data to identify females near your location. This information that they gather, is information you are posting about yourself. So, the app can provide data such as your picture and profile information, oh, and your exact location. Do you know what a Cold War era OSINT analyst would give for this kind of real-time information?
The app requires you to be a FourSquare member to use their service, and apparently FourSquare has cut off openly available data to the Moscow based company, I-Free, and Apple has since removed the app from its app store.
But here's the deal. Your personal information is out there in the open. Your work history via LinkedIn. Your friends and family, who & where they are, what they look like are all available on (insert social network of your choice). A predator can use open source research, i.e. the Internet, to find out enough about you to put you in trouble. Location based social networks, like FourSquare are where I'm torn. On one hand, I get to share with my friends where I'm at, on the other, I provide strangers who follow me online, my exact location. So if some dude from Fairtex or TapOut has a beef with me, he could, in theory, find me.
See where I'm going with this?
Just because Girls Around Me was squashed, does not mean that this concept will go away. We'll see this app again, and again, and again, each time a little more sophisticated - harder to identify as a predatory tool. Guys will always find (and pay for) an easier way to identify where the women are, there is no doubt about that.
Given that I'm in the business of competitive intelligence, I use OSINT everyday to collect, process, and analyze what my competitors are doing. Yes, I have a day job. And I am uniquely qualified to understand the amount of information out there on you, and how simple it is for those who knowhow to use the tools, to find you. Yeah, I can find you, no problem.
So, please if you've read this far, take an additional 5-10 minutes and go through the privacy settings on the social media tools you use on a regular basis. If you have an account you don't regularly check, like a MySpace account, cancel it. Don't allow people outside your network of friends to see your status updates or photos. Set your LinkedIn profile as anonymous. Be very selective about where you check-in. I badges are rad, but, they aren't that rad.
Information is a powerful thing, and if you think your crazy ex-boyfriend (or girlfriend, or kinda weird, but sorta nice guy at the coffee shop) isn't keeping tabs on you, think again. Limit the amount of information you share and you'll make yourself safer. Basic OPSEC, folks. And while you're at it, change your passwords.
Anonymity is a a good thing ladies, and gents.