How Safe is Your Dating Life from The Threat of Opt-Out Apps?
We don’t always realize who has access to our personal information and how it is being used. Even applications that we do not know about may have access to our information. Take, for example, the Lulu dating application. Lulu has allowed women to rate men, similar to how users rate restaurants on Yelp. Lulu has used personal information about men, without their consent, due to an interesting opting option. It is important to be aware of how your information is being used with an understanding of opting procedures.
Opting procedures make a huge difference in how your private information is shared. The confusion with opt-in and opt-out procedures likely stems from both a general lack of knowledge that these procedures exist, as well as the non-uniform use of these procedures by different online sites and applications. These opting procedures aim to strike a balance between privacy strategies that protect a user’s information, and a company’s interest in obtaining and distributing that information for an “ease” of service.
What is Opt-In?
What is Opt-Out?
An opt-out system does not require a user to selectively consent to websites and apps obtaining and using their data. Instead, users have to manually opt-out of any of these procedures. Companies get away with this with the notion that when you use an app or website, you agree to the gathering and manipulation of your information, which is a function of the application itself. Opt-out systems can include requiring a user to check a box opting out, or requiring a user to send an email or regular mail to restrict an app’s control over a user’s information.
How can the difference between opt-in and opt-out affect your dating life?
The Lulu mobile app was created in February 2013 as a means for women to create a Lulu review for “anyone listed as ‘male’ on their Facebook profile” while also allowing women access to reviews of men who were not Facebook friends with the women. Likened to Yelp-reviews for guys, the application has scary implications. Only women have access to the application—and this is controlled, as Lulu requires women to log into the app with their Facebook accounts (the app provides accessibility as long as the Facebook profile is listed as of the female gender). Once women log in with their Facebook accounts, pictures and names (along with Lulu scores, discussed below) of their male Facebook friends are streamed into the application. Men’s profiles automatically contain information pulled from their Facebook profiles that include their Facebook profile picture, their age, their current relationship status, and even their location.
This is when “ratings” from women come into play. The steps to rate men on Lulu are actually quite simple: a woman (1) logs into Lulu using her Facebook account; (2) scrolls through the list of men that Lulu provides for her on her individual platform; (3) picks any man from that list; (4) begins the rating process by selecting answers to the question choices that Lulu provides; and (5) lists her relationship to the man she is rating—which include the categories: friend, ex-boyfriend, crush, current partner, or relative, and she may even create a review anonymously. The results of women’s selections are aggregated into various, identifying hashtags, along with a “score” for men, on a scale from 1 to 10. The hashtag identifiers are witty, and quite descriptive of an individual when compiled. For example, hashtags may include: “#LifeOfTheParty”, “#420friendly”, “#SweatsALot”, “#SexualPanther”, and “#UnderstandsDifferenceBetweenTheirandTheyre”. These hashtags not only rate men on appearance, but on social identifiers and sexual inclinations.
The most troubling aspect of Lulu was that the system functioned on an “opt-out” system, meaning that men’s profiles were displayed on Lulu with information drawn from their Facebook accounts, unless men expressly opted out of the application by contacting Lulu. The issue with this procedure was that men very likely did not know that their profile was even on Lulu, let alone that the application even existed. Further, the application was taking information from men’s Facebook pages without their permission. The operability of Lulu had been challenged repeatedly across the world once men became more aware of the application. The fact that men were seemingly unable to control whether their profile appeared on the application was of huge concern to many men upon realizing the existence of the application. And… guys: a man in Brazil sued Lulu after being unable to find a date, due to his rating profile on Lulu. Scary.
After receiving numerous complaints about the broad range of privacy concerns regarding the application, Lulu changed its privacy settings on February 28, 2014. The application now functions on an opt-in, as opposed to an opt-out, system. This means that men who wish to be featured on the application specifically have to approve of the system by logging into Lulu and approving that their information be placed on the platform for women to “rate” them.
So… men, if you didn’t know about Lulu before reading this, the only fear you have to live with is whether you were ever actually displayed and rated on the app before the end of February.
This application provides an interesting example of the reality of various apps that can have access to your data, even without your awareness. Therefore, to secure the privacy of your information, plan accordingly and be cognizant of what type of opt systems you are subscribing to.
 See Terms of Service, Lulu, http://company.onlulu.com/terms_and_privacy
 See Terms of Service, Lulu, http://company.onlulu.com/terms_and_privacy; See http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/05/lulu-app-changes-guy-friendly_n_4904748.html