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IPhone app that finds racy Facebook photos raises privacy worries

October 31, 2012|By Laura J. Nelson
  • The Badabing app works in a similar way to the facial-recognition technology found in video chat programs and Facebook's tag prompts. But instead of identifying faces, Badabing identifies the shape of a bikini.
The Badabing app works in a similar way to the facial-recognition technology…

A new iPhone app that trawls Facebook for photos of scantily clad friends is raising the ire of privacy advocates and anti-child porn activists.

The application, called Badabing, searches tagged photos and posted albums from as many as five Facebook friends at a time. The app returns the Facebook pictures as a list that can be easily liked, bookmarked and shared.

Users upload more than 2.5 billions photos to Facebook each month, and some of those users have no doubt clicked through a friend’s vacation album to find bikini pictures. But Badabing circumvents that process by automatically amassing a dossier of women wearing little in the way of clothing.

The app’s launch comes at a time of heightened concern about the use and unintended reuse of photos of young women posted online.

Creator Erick Barto launched Badabing two weeks before a Reddit user was very publicly outed for his unsavory photo-posting habits. Michael Brutsch was fired from his computer programming job in Texas after he was identified as Reddit user "violentacrez," who had managed multiple shadowy sub-forums of the popular forum website. One was called R/Jailbait, where he and other users allegedly curated photographs of underage women.

And last week, a study from the Internet Watch Foundation found that a large number of provocative photos posted by underage social network users are often re-purposed for adult websites. In a sampling of 12,224 images tracked by the United Kingdom-based foundation, 88% of the suggestive or sexual photos – nearly 11,000 – ended up being published on porn websites.

Since then, child exploitation and advocacy organizations have spoken out against Badabing, saying its easy aggregation paves the way for child predators to access provocative photos of children.

"Privacy is clearly at the very back of the designer's mind when creating an application that enables this kind of search to be easier when it, in fact, should be made more difficult,” Emma Car, a spokeswoman for Big Brother Watch, told the British newspaper Daily Mail.

Barto, Badabing's creator, said his app doesn’t store or re-purpose any of Facebook’s photos. The key for Facebook users, he said, is to be mindful of the site’s privacy settings, as well as who they choose to connect with as Facebook friends.

“This is a very touchy subject, of course,” Barto said. “Anything that’s readily available on Facebook, that’s what we can search. Those privacy tools on Facebook should be used to control the content that you want to be private.”

The app works in a similar way to the facial-recognition technology found in video chat programs and Facebook’s tag prompts. But instead of identifying faces, Badabing identifies the shape of a bikini. That means in addition to beach photos, the app may return pictures of a T-shirt with the outline of a swimsuit.

After TechCrunch published a brief post about Badabing on Sunday, so many people downloaded the app that it crashed, Barto said. He isn’t sure how popular it has become, because Apple only refreshes its iTunes store download tally once a day, but the number is in the thousands. The app costs $1.99.

A Web version of the app, which is in development, would enable users to log in to the Badabing website and search their Facebook friends' picture galleries.

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