Is This New Dating App Taking Away Men's Privacy?

You could be on this hook-up rating app and not even know it.

BY KATE HAKALA

This month's NSA/PRISM scandal, which prominently featured media giants like Google and Facebook, has left us all on edge regarding our digital privacy and the ubiquitous services we freely give our information to. Short of eradicating our online media presence, there doesn't seem to be much we can do about it. Besides, it's not like a social networking system would openly give away our personal information and dating history without our consent, left to be subject to the ridicule and scrutiny of the public. No wait, there's an app for that. They call it Lulu—and men are its target.

Lulu, the new “rate him” app, allows its exclusively female users to access profiles of men they’re interested in through the information and photos that have been anonymously and secretly uploaded from Facebook by its other users. Users can review and rate men they've dated or know, while sourcing the opinions of other women about the men they've only just met at the bar. Later, they can share the reviews on their Facebook page.

Both cited as controversial and touted as the smart woman's little black book, Lulu is a strictly women-only app designed for “intelligent” women looking to inform themselves about potential dates, a digital, boundless "girl talk" session. With one huge caveat: men aren't allowed to use Lulu. Men who have been reviewed are neither informed about their posting nor allowed to access their profiles to see what women have said about them. And no, they can't rate any women themselves. It's seemingly the first quasi-Orwellian, privacy-skirting dating app, and it's making men rightfully uncomfortable, even outraged.

If this sounds like a Sex-and-the-City-ed beta version of Hot or Not, with nods to Yelp, and the ill-conceived proto-Facebook, Facemash, you’d be on the right track. The only thing not stoking the fire of lawsuits that would conceivably be aimed at Lulu is the fact that its content retains a level of tameness due to its impersonality. The “detailed” information it offers about men is concentrated down to a drop-list of hashtags, multiple choice answers, and numerical ratings based on criteria like appearance, humor, and first kiss (cue gags).

It’s really only catering to a certain kind of woman. The pre-written hashtag rating system that Lulu offers is often a one-noted, monolithic way to judge men. There’s also the complication that anyone could look both attractive or unappealing based on a rubric of pre-selected hashtags, Cosmo-esque quizzes, and stereotype-heavy content. Maybe some of us adore the spontaneity and imagination of a man who another friend, with a different outlook, would deem a #ManChild, complete with a poor numerical summation. The pre-formatted way in which men are rated makes the app’s content unspecific and yet invasive and, of course, subjective and potentially inaccurate. 

CEO Alexandra Chong thinks the app is fun and lighthearted and a great tool to recommend dates that just weren’t right for some people to their friends. She says she hopes the app will be used for good: “Should a guy not do well in a particular category, then they can change their behavior.” Is the app really made for this utility? Would a reported 75,000 users really log on for this happy-go-lucky, non-shallow purpose alone? Not when there are “good-natured” hashtags like #ManSlut or #TotalF**kingD**khead to sling around. Though the app advertises that it does not support dish session topics like penis or wallet size reports, the tags #Big.Feet and #AlwaysPays suggest otherwise.

This isn't the first we've heard of the hapless and unsuspecting falling prey to online sex rating. We know well David Merkur, the 28-year-old investment banker who kept an Excel spreadsheet of his online dates that went viral last year and similarly, in 2010, Karen Owen's Duke sex-rating Power Point captured attention. Merkur and Owens' actions were decried as both creepy and humiliating.  Both of these were private entries that were made public by a leak, never intended to be distributed to a wider audience. Yet, in this same social climate, we have created and condoned a public, gender-wide sex-rating app, backed to the tune of $3.5 million?  

Compare Lulu to Don’t Date Him Girl, a similar date-ranking site founded in 2005, which was also a target of controversy as many claims on posted profiles were found to be fallacious, some men even meeting in court to file lawsuits in 2006, after finding the sites contents to defame character. After that, DDHG was ordered to remove profiles from their site and has since been seen as a revenge site. While not revenge porn, apps like Lulu walk a fine tightrope and bring up a lot of questions: How many of these posts will be created out of anger and slander versus helpfulness? Is there a point when the informative nature of dating tech trumps the exploitative quality?

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