It may be time to add celebrity to the list of potentially dangerous jobs in America.
The celebrity news blog Gawker.com takes Gawker Stalker, its celebrity-sighting feature, to a new level. Earlier this week, the site began using the Google Maps tool to show exactly where and when a star was spotted just moments after a sighting.
Jessica Coen, the Web site's editor, told the New York Daily News, "The celebrities, I'm sure, are not going to like this any more than they like being trailed by papparazzi."
Essentially, Gawker Stalker allows anyone to track -- and follow -- a favorite celebrity around New York City.
As the Web site's instructions say: "Sightings are sent in by readers who use this feature to enact their ill will upon innocent, unsuspecting celebrities and their golden-haired children."
Some publicists have said they don't find the new feature very amusing.
"I understand that Stalker Gawker is supposed to be a joke. However, people around the country don't take it as a joke," said Brad Zeifman, celebrity publicist and vice president at Susan Blond Inc. in New York. "They will find their favorite celebrities, they will put them on this Web site, and then there will be legions of fans following these celebrities."
In one example, a blogger writes about seeing musician Dave Matthews at 628 Broadway: "Just saw Dave Matthews strolling past the urban outfitters ... sort of window shopping, chatting with friends, with a coffee cup in his hand."
An adjacent map pinpoints the location with a photo of the Grammy-winning musician.
Another poster finds radio shock jock Howard Stern and his girlfriend, Beth Ostrosky, on Columbus Avenue: "Saw them walking with their arms around each other and laughing, heading south. They were both ridiculously tall, and she's a lot more attractive in person than in photos. He has clearly had a LOT of work done."
Fans Out of Control?
Some worry the Web site will encourage fans to act like papparazzi or peeping Toms.
"As innovative as it may be, it puts celebrities in harm's way. It opens up channels for fans to find their favorite celebrity and stalk them," said Zeifman. "Just because you're a well-known public figure doesn't give people the right to find you, stalk you and know where you are at all times."
Linden Gross, the author of "Surviving a Stalker: Everything You Need to Know to Keep Yourself Safe," called the site irresponsible and "creepy."
"With celebrities, this is completely unwanted ... an inappropriate pursuit of somebody that can escalate even if it starts off in a harmless way," Gross said. "You are putting a little target on somebody's back. ... You are essentially giving to people who [may be] borderline in terms of mental health ... a tool to jeopardize somebody's life."
Gross, who started an educational Web site called stalkingvictims.com, said that stalkers often aim to get a response out of the person they are stalking, even if it is a negative reaction.
"There's an obsessive quality with the whole stalker thing," she said. "In some ways they are so connected to the person they are stalking it sort of becomes their life. Any reaction is better than no reaction."
On the other hand, Gross acknowledges that public attention is often what propels these celebrities' careers.
"When a celebrity is on the rise the publicist it trying to get them attention, but when [the celebrity] is at the top there is too much attention," she said.
Even some of the Web site's users have expressed apprehension about the new Gawker Stalker feature.
In response to a post about seeing "Brokeback Mountain" star Michelle Williams at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, one reader replied: "OMG, that is a little bit scary. Brilliant, but scary."
Another post read: "Maybe I'm just old skool in my sightings style, but this seems a bit scary. Then again I use a Sony walkman cassette not an iPod."
Zeifman and Gross said they fear our celebrity-obsessed culture is getting out of control -- with countless magazines, Web sites and blogs tracking stars' every move.
"How much right as consumers do we have to be as invasive as we are to be in a celebrity's life? I don't know the answer to that question," said Gross.