Sex-predator iPhone app is back in business
Posted by Philip Elmer-DeWitt
August 10, 2009

Of all the applications that Apple (AAPL) has pulled from the iPhone App Store — and there have been quite a few — none were as creepy, sad or profitable as Offender Locator.

Launched in early June by ThinAir Wireless, a Houston-based GPS-tracking services company, in both free and $0.99 versions, it displayed the names, addresses, faces and criminal records of registered sex offenders living near you or anyone you know — or, using GPS data, near whatever street you happen to be driving down.

The app quickly moved into Apple’s Top 10 lists, where it caught the eye of the media — including the Washington Post and ABC News. On Thursday, Aug. 6, the $0.99 version disappeared from the App Store. By Sunday, Aug. 9, it was back.

Here’s what happened.

But first, a few words about the controversial application, which has almost as many critics as it has defenders. (Of the 9,209 reviews of Offender Locator Lite as of Monday morning, 3,181 gave it five stars and 2,471 gave it one, the lowest possible rating.)

Many have pointed out that under Megan’s Law, the same sex offender lists are available on Internet sites maintained by each state. In fact, most states sites give you far more information than Offender Locator provides. For example, the Sex Offender Inquiry System in Oregon, where I am vacationing this week, provides — in addition to the bare bones criminal records that the iPhone app displays — such details as the conditions and restrictions imposed by the court, the age and sex of the victims the offender is known to target, and his or her (although it’s almost always his) “methods of offending.”

Others have suggested that the app could be an invitation to stalk the stalkers — although opinion seems to be evenly divided whether this is a good thing or a bad.

ThinAir Wireless promotes its app as offering parents POM — peace of mind. “They know where you and your family are,” goes its promotional copy. “Now it’s time to turn the tables so that you know where they live and can make better decisions about where to allow your kids to play.”

There’s more than a whiff of fear-mongering there. And as several critics have noted, there are numerous discrepancies between Offender Locator’s data and the states’, raising questions about how often the information is updated or checked for accuracy. ~snipped~

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