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New App Makes It Easy to Stalk Friends (or Strangers!) Without Them Really Knowing

Alyssa Bereznak
National Correspondent, Technology
Yahoo Tech

Your favorite social networks have asked you to share your location for a while now. They say it’s to bring you closer to the people you love (or might love). But it’s also a way to gather more precious data about you. Now that information is being disseminated and graphed on maps via third-party apps that you haven’t signed up for, the most recent example being Connect.

Connect is an iOS and web app that premiered Tuesday at the Launch Festival in San Francisco. It culls all the geographic data available from your contacts’ various social networks and compiles it into different sets of maps. 

Where does Connect get that information? It’s pulled from the data crumbs we willingly drop on Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Google, Instagram and LinkedIn. While you might expect a few of these networks to track your whereabouts, it’s actually a little startling to see your friends’ (and your own) basic geographic data carved out from its original data set and exploited in one big, collaborative map — especially one that you haven’t authorized to use your information.

Connect doesn’t actually get data on people that isn’t otherwise available. You can see only your friends’ locations. But seeing it all together is disconcerting at first, especially when you think of how the tables can be turned on you. The address you gave LinkedIn? The location from which you Instagrammed? The last place you were tweeting? Seeing all those moments globbed together into one big feed feels a little stalkerish and brings up bad memories of the privacy issues many people experienced with Apple’s Find My Friends feature.

On the positive side, Connect can also help you, yes, connect with friends when either you or they are traveling. It’s cool to see, when you’re about to leave for a trip to New York, that an old friend is now living there. The app also lets you see more current information, like the minutes-old check-in from a friend on Foursquare.

Although the information Connect can gather all depends on how forthcoming your friends are when it comes to checking in on Facebook or Foursquare, there’s still a lot of stuff that most of us aren’t sharp enough to keep tabs on. Here’s a quick run-through of how the app works, for both aspiring stalkers — sorry, we mean old friends — and those who want to make sure their locational information isn’t so easily exploited.

1. Once you download Connect for iOS, you’ll be asked to allow push notifications so you can see when your friends are nearby or when they post an interesting check-in. (My instinct at this moment is to say no, unless you want to really freak your friends out with your stalker superpowers, although one editor here finds it to be a cool feature.)

2. Then it’ll ask you to sign up via Facebook. Say yes. This is just the first step in a long process of the app’s deep informational dive. If you feel uncomfortable relinquishing this much information, turn back now.

3. Above you see the details of all the things it’ll pluck from you and your friends’ profiles. Who knew a random online friendship could allow you so much access to another person’s information! Then it’ll ask you to sign up with your email address.

4. From there, you’ll be brought to a welcome screen that will offer you a small tour of the app. It’ll introduce you to the search bar feature, which allows you to sort through your friends with filters like job title, school and relationship status.

Throughout, it’ll also encourage you to add your other social accounts to expand the amount of information the app can collect about your friends (as seen below). Each time you do this, you’ll have to individually sign into each account and allow Connect to access the app’s information.

5. Finally, you’ll be brought to a map that shows where your clumps of friends are, based on their latest check-ins, Instagram photos, tweets and so on.

6. You can always enhance the information on your map by going to the toolbar up on the left. From there, tap People Sources.

7. It’ll display all the networks from which you’re culling your friends’ locational info. You can sign up for more or turn specific networks off anytime you feel like it. (The app is free, but if you want to track location data from LinkedIn, it’s a $2.99 in-app purchase.)

8. Each time a person checks in somewhere new, you’ll see a red notification on the upper-left corner of the screen.

9. You can tap it to see a complete feed of the most recent geographic locations of everyone you know/follow on social media. Below the person’s name, location and when she checked in, you’ll see an icon of the social network that provided that information. Keep in mind that not all these people are my “friends.” I just follow some of them on Instagram or Twitter.

10. When you’re at the main map, everyone’s default location is based on the area he lives in (which he’s probably disclosed somewhere on Facebook). If you want to see everyone’s current location, tap the pin on the bottom-right corner of the screen.

11. If you want to filter your searches, tap the search bar up top for all sorts of nefarious research. 

12. From there, you can use a string of icons to filter who appears on the map according to certain criteria. Sort of like Facebook Graph search, but with a map.

13. So, if you’re looking for someone to date, you can easily see who’s available on your map by tapping the heart icon and then picking Single.

14. Using my own location, Connect shows me all the single men nearest to me. Aren’t I the luckiest belle at the ball?

15. You can repeat this exercise over and over again with different filters until you find someone you want to add to a list. Look who we have here! A Princeton grad…

16. If you scroll down, you’ll have the option to add this person to a list. It can either be a generic “Favorites” group or one you’ve specifically created. 

17. Success!

Though Jason is my friend on Facebook, I want to reiterate that you can add anyone you follow on, say, Twitter or Instagram, to a list and track his movements.

Needless to say, it’s a strong argument for turning off your location settings on Twitter and maybe disabling your photo map on Instagram.

In the meantime, creepy folk, go crazy with this thing.

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