Friday, June 4, 2010

Fit Finder taken down - but is this only temporary?

It has just been brought to my attention that FitFinder has been removed from the web.

For the uninitiated FitFinder was a twitteresque web facility that allowed students to find the forum for their home university, find their current location within that university - for example the Library -  and then post comments about attractive people they could see.

The posts included charming information such as descriptions of what the people looked like, the exact spot they were sitting in and even the book they were reading. Though the terms of the site did ask those posting not to use people's names it was exceptionally easy to identify who was being talked about (assuming they were not fictional). And we did find posts that used people's names regardless of the terms on the site.

While the site was extremely popular with students (apparently gaining over 5 million hits in 4 weeks) it was also used for, shall we say,  less complimentary posts which could be quite unpleasant - and also had the potential to be used by anyone with an unhealthy interest in someone else - it was described to me by a colleague as "stalker's paradise".

The Fitfinder web site: is now titled "Save FitFinder" and has a blurb about the current situation and the site being taken down due to pressure from universities. It also states "we hope this is only temporary" and invites people to sign a petition to get it reinstated.

What do you think of FitFinder? harmless fun or asking for trouble?
Should it come back?


Lynne said...

Plus the creater has been fined £300 for bringing UCL into disrepute and if he doesn't pay it he won't graduate. I feel slightly sad about this action

Katharine said...

Thanks Lynne,

I've just been and had a better look at the news stories on this and yes, it does seem that the creator is being fined.

It also seems that the only real criticism of the site is that it was distracting students from their study, e.g.

(Although both articles do take a rather biassed point of view and play down the criticism somewhat)

This does seem a strange issue to pick up on when students have access to so much other stuff on the internet (I have heard about some students requesting that Facebook is banned on library PCs to free them up for actual study - and that hasn't banned anywhere as far as I know).

I think a more worrying aspect of the site was that it allowed people to be targeted (either in a positive or negative way) and identified easily without their consent - possibly even without their knowledge - on a very public forum. Some might call that creepy.

I'm not sure about the fine situation, I suppose it depends on UCL's own policies - we must remember that when a student joins a course they have a contract with the university and they must face the consequences if they break their part of the deal. Not knowing what the conditions of that contract might be it is impossible to comment on whether or not the fine is warranted.

The first comment on the London Evening Standard article considers that if the site was being hosted through JANET then it would be breaching the terms of acceptable use as the tax payer would be have been footing the bill. This is another issue I can't comment on - but is very interesting.

saima said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Katharine said...

Hi Saima,
I'm sorry, but I think the facility to post pictures of people on a site this is very wrong. I don't think it is appropriate, fair or ethical to post pictures of people on web sites without their personal permission. The comments posted on the new site are often far from complimentary and leave people open to having insults and embarrassing comments posted about them without their knowledge.
These are not the kind of sites I would like to promote in any way, so I have removed your comment form this blog and will not be linking to or naming the alternative web site here.