Google’s searching for stalkers

Stalklogo-1Google’s mission, famously, is to organise the world’s information. And they’ve broadened this in recent years to include pretty much anything. Now the boffins want to organise your socialising. But do we really want a bunch of Californian nerds controlling how we socialise? And, scarily, how stalkers socialise?

The internet makes pretty much anything you want to do with your life easier. So just as it’s made it far simpler to be antisocial, and never leave your bedroom, a string of social networking sites like Friendster and MySpace have sprung up that allow people who actually have friends to catch up with them. Most popularly, it lets you make new friends, on the principle that you’re more likely to get along with friends of friends.

But a new American site called Dodgeball, which has just been bought by Google, lets inner-city hipsters in the US meet up with their friends using their mobile phones – when they’re away from their computers. We already send out tentative SMSes to friends when we’re out to see if they’re around, and Dodgeball is like the deluxe version of the drunken “Whereareya?” SMS.

First you sign up your friends to a contact list. Then you text Dodgeball the details of where you’re at and it flips an SMS with the address to all the friends on your list. But trickier yet is the friend-of-a-friend feature. If someone else who’s in the contact list of one of your friends is within 10 blocks, it sends you a photo of them saying “This is x, you know them through y”. Which provides the perfect beginning to a conversation, of course – you just get to bitch about your mutual friend.

The other feature – which is very Sex & The City (more’s the pity) – is a feature that lets you register up to five “crushes” – any user on the site, I think. If they’re in the vicinity, it’ll alert you and tell you where they are. You’re apparently allowed to have a couple of people on the go in the States – so imagine how complicated things could get if your crushes all converged, you were chatting one up and then another popped up?

Dodgeball sounds to me like a social nightmare – would you really want people you were interested in to find out about that in such an unromantic fashion, let alone be forewarned you were approaching? But the Americans are always strangely straightforward about these things.

This all seems well and good, but tracking people’s movements like this is also a fantastic way to invade someone’s privacy. Even without signing up, I can randomly click on people’s photos on the website and find out which bars they regularly hang out in. What a brilliant way to attract crazy stalkers!

But it’s not as bad as another site specifically designed for obsessive fans: Gawker Stalker. It’s a central repository for sightings of famous people in NYC, And of course, the sophisticated mapping engine it uses is provided by the ubiquitous Google. For instance:

Stocking up on turkey chili at Balducci’s, see a dude in a black sweatshirt. I realize it’s David Schwimmer. Looked like he rolled out of bed. He was there with a guy stocking up on provisions.

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Schwimmer is probably stoked that anyone’s still interested in him, but George Clooney has complained about the site, as well one of its victims might. In particular, it seems like a fantastic way to put mentally ill people in touch with the famous people they want to stab. One of the sightings on there at the moment is Christian Slater coming out of the Dakota – the same building John Lennon lived in when he was shot by a crazy fan. Well done, Gawker and Google!

Clooney suggests that celebs get their underlings to just post fake sightings, but what a total waste of time. And surely not everyone has a phalanx of PAs. You can’t tell me John Stamos (“doing the breakfast thing at the Millenium Hilton’s Church & Dey eatery”) can afford to keep a staff anymore.

As always, Google’s got great technology, but serious privacy problems. But there’s a brilliant solution. Clooney should pay people to obsessively stalk and post the movements of Gawker’s staff, and the nerds at Google whose technology makes it all possible. Even if it’s just “Larry Page spent all night at his office programming. Again.” They’d soon become passionate privacy advocates.

But Gawker Stalker could have its uses. Imagine the reassurance for women of being able to avoid the pub where Warney and his mates were trying to pick up. And I’d pay good money to receive a warning SMS to stop me from accidentally visiting a pub where Russell Crowe was singing.

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