Cloak – Incognito Mode for Real Life

Personally I’m interested in helping people to reach each other. I am aware that sometimes there’s no potential for such between two people and in these cases sometimes it is better for them to actually rather avoid each other. I see it unfortunate that some people appear to have taken a policy of having a list of people whom they try to avoid. This can even involve a list of places where these people tend to visit, and therefore this list of places should also be avoided.

Now there is a mobile application to support this behaviour.

http://www.engadget.com/2014/03/19/cloak-app-helps-you-avoid-people/

The application makes use of social media applications such as FourSquare and Instagram. I was about to formulate that “makes use of other social media applications”, but I find it questionable, whether this is actually an asocial media application, rather than social. The application apparently analyses people’s social media updates and informs it’s user, if people on the avoidance list appear to be where the user is going.

This application is certainly different, but it reminds me of the case of the Girls Around Me application two years ago. Girls Around Me used the FourSquare API to find the closest female user check-ins and then provided more personal information about them by cross referencing with what was available in Facebook. This created a creepy situation, where strangers would approach women and suddenly knowing just about everything about their life and interests, depending on how public and verbose their Facebook wall was.

Girls Around Me was blocked by FourSquare, because FourSquare has a policy against aggregating information across venues. The case is not similar with Cloak, as it doesn’t aggregate information across venues. (It gathers information from several venues, but not in effort to extract significantly more information about people than each individual venue alone provides.) Cloak is not as intrusive application as Girls Around Me – quit the opposite, actually.

Cloak can be seen as something of an opposite to the Find My Friends application, and the even more intrusive position tracking systems. There has been discussions regarding parents’ rights to track their children’s whereabouts using their phone location information. Sometimes these services can cause many kinds of harm. One, light example is, when people are organizing a surprise party to someone and this person stumbles upon the surprise early by tracking the organizers. More serious issues regard Orwellian surveillance of people for their political opinions. For the latter Cloak hardly helps, but it may help a little the people trying to organize the surprise party – as long as this person is not actively trying to pursue other people’s whereabouts. Random, inconvenient encounters may be avoided.

But although Cloak is the opposite of a certain type of applications that can be classified as bad applications in them violating one’s privacy, the opposite of bad isn’t necessarily plain good. Can Cloak be considered as something that violates someone’s rights? As the plain concept goes, it’s difficult to see how. One already has many other tools to help avoiding people. The heaviest way is to get a restraining order from a court of law. Simpler ways are to create “don’t answer this number”-profiles to one’s phone, and as mentioned in the very beginning here, to avoid places where certain person regularly visits.

There is a risk, if Cloak allows extracting avoidance lists, so that they can be shared. In this case people can create public black lists and distribute them around. It would be relatively easy to add random people on such lists and pass them onwards. This could cause serious cases of bullying by unfair discrimination. Hence it is very unlikely that Cloak would contain such a feature.

It is difficult to actually allocate the blame, but one thing is that Cloak is actually a tool for using your private information from social media against you. If you give away your whereabouts publicly, that can be used by people for either discovering you or avoiding you. But then again, do you want to meet people who don’t want to meet you?

The application name Cloak is a bit missleading, as the application doesn’t actually cover one into secrecy, but rather helps one escape others. To be more of an actual cloak, it would, in a way, fit the application to actually hide one’s presence in social media. The application could try to either prevent Facebook, for example, from sharing location information when making status updates. Alternatively it could try to remove this information from recent postings after updates are done. This would help from attracting people joining one where one is. Of course, with FourSquare, this would just mean that no check-ins could be done. This feature would hinder two people using Cloak for both avoiding each other. Essentially it would easily ruin the usability and concept of the whole application. Therefore this feature is unlikely.

I have no personal experience of Cloak. I’m also unlikely to get it, as I prefer to either discuss with people, even when I’m not in good terms with them, or just tolerate them.

One thing for certain is that Cloak is not aiming for helping meet each other.

Maybe I’m a bit of a dreamer like: