There’s a social network where your follower literally follows you

And I thought online followers could be creepy

Do you want to be spied on by an unseen obsessive? I don’t but apparently some people do. If you’re one of them then today is your lucky day, assuming you live in New York (the service will expand to other cities). A new “social network” – I use the term sparingly – allows you to be stalked for a whole day. A follower isn’t just a number any more; it’s someone lurking in the shadows.

Follower is a service created by Lauren McCarthy, an artist and full-time faculty at NYU Interactive Telecommunications Program with computer science and art degrees from MIT. Envisioned as an art project but also a social experience, Follower lets you sign up to be followed for an entire day. You sign up on the website and select three preferred dates to be followed. You are sent a link to download the Follower app, which alerts you on the morning of the day you are to be followed. For the rest of the day, the app uses your GPS signal to notify your Follower of your location. You probably won’t see your Follower, though they intend to keep quite close. McCarthy claims that the goal is to be unseen but “in your awareness”, whatever that means.

Image © Lauren McCarthy

The Follower app notifies you at the end of the day when the Follower has stopped stalking you. You then receive a photo taken earlier in the day by the Follower to prove they were tailing you. My concern, beyond the fact that this is monumentally creepy, is what if the Follower doesn’t stop? Do they have to? What if they really enjoyed following you? What if the experience was so enjoyable that they decide to keep it up?

If you’ve been home at any point during the day, the Follower now knows where you live. Can you imagine if the next day you received a 2nd photo, posted through the mailbox? It’s the stuff of nightmares. I wondered what could be done if you changed your mind about being followed and found this in the FAQ: “Simply delete the app and your Follower will no longer have access to your location and will stop following you.” Actually, there’s nothing to guarantee they will stop following you. Not having your GPS coordinates means nothing once they’ve started tailing you.

Image © Lauren McCarthy

Right now there is only one Follower: McCarthy herself, which makes it sound a little safer. However, the website allow new Followers to apply. The service is becoming more popular and McCarthy intends for it to expand out of New York and around the world, so there will have to be plenty of Followers signing up. I could be more of an optimist and believe that people won’t suddenly turn into creepy obsessives as I speculated earlier, but I’m genuinely concerned that the very nature of the service will attract people likely to have those tendencies.

As creeped out as I am, there’s something deeply amusing to me about the one current Follower being the creator of the service: we all know what McCarthy looks like just by visiting her website. That probably makes her job quite difficult. She claims to have a real skill for this, which I think means she’s good at stalking. In my mind I’m hoping she wears a false moustache and peers at clients through eye holes cut from a newspaper.

Part of me is intrigued and another part is shuddering with the thought. It’s creepy but at the end of the day at least it’s not LinkedIn.

You can learn more about the experience from the Follower website and by watching this video created by Lauren McCarthy and David Leonard.


Main image © iStock/Andrew Cribb