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Stalking takes a high-tech turn

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | JUNE 29, 2012 6:30 AM

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The Internet generation is growing and with it comes the roar of extroverted, uninformed, and easily swayed teenagers looking to carve their way in the world one bickering debate (if we are going to use that word) at a time.

Into the world like a virus they come screaming, infecting privacy with cyber-stalking passed off as a harmless new American pastime.

And yes, of course, Facebook is at the head of it.

The company recently released an app that its programmers called "Find Friends Nearby," CNN called a "Stalking-App," and what we've decided to call just plain invasive.

The app, designed by Facebook engineer Ryan Patterson and originally titled "Friendshake" was made to access information about those you've recently met quickly and learn where they're located around you.

Patterson, who built Find Friends Nearby with another engineer for a "hackathon" project, of course sees nothing wrong with spying on your neighbors after a quick download.

"For me, the ideal use case for this product is the one where when you're out with a group of people whom you've recently met and want to stay in contact with," Patterson wrote in an article debating the app on the professional technology blog TechCrunch.

"Hackathons," despite their intimidating name that brings flashbacks to the movie Swordfish, are actually quite geeky. During a hackathon, different computer programmers, software developers, and graphic designers join together to create anything they want, and in this case, they created a stalking app.

"Facebook search might be effective, or sharing your vanity addresses or business cards, but this tool provides a really easy way to exchange contact information with numerous people with minimal friction," the engineer wrote. 

"Minimal friction" is the choice of words that we find particularly abrasive in Patterson's explanation. Just as the now old-time stalkers used minimal friction while taking photographs of you with telephoto lenses, their high-tech predescers can now simply track you through your phone's GPS.

Facebook attempted to silently release the new app, because it's controversial in its ability to physically locate others through their mobile phones.

There are apps similar to this, like FourSquare, that allow its users to "check in" places in a competition to log in the most at certain locations. FourSquare has a marketing quality to it, yet Find Friends Nearby lacks any serious practical use besides letting Facebook know where you're located.

 Just as silently as it released the app, Facebook has also now silently admitted it has gone too far in its creation and, sadly, it was swiftly taken down.

But this is a prime example of Facebook's silent changes it has made this week, including assigning every user a @Facebook email address. Now, when you send messages to outside addresses, your email will look like a Facebook message — complete with profile picture and username. How is that detrimental, you ask?

Gervase Markham, an Oxford grad and the youngest programmer to ever be hired at Mozilla, after discovering the new auto-assigned email address said it was a little more than just a domain change.

"In other words, Facebook silently inserted itself into the path of formerly direct unencrypted communications from people who want to email me," Markham said. "In other contexts, this is known as a Man in the Middle attack. What on earth do they think they are playing at?"

 It's situations like these that are alarming for the future. Young Mark Zuckerberg's billions have seemed to change him to the opposite of Jesse Eisenberg's rendition of him in The Social Network, arguing against Eduardo's idea for the addition of advertisements because "[Facebook] has to be cool."

 What's most overlooked is that the site doesn't allow true and unique self-expression, but files its users into marketing categories. Age, interests, location, employment — all demographics to pair with your own posts and details that you've given up for interaction.

We have seen the world in which social interaction meant calling a house phone, and we were young enough to fully realize the weight of the most influential invention ever — the Internet.

 That being said, we don't want to have anyone in tinfoil helmets, but there is cause for some concern here. This may be the beginning to something much more influential to us and much more lucrative for companies such as Facebook.


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