It’s quite the common “research process.” Suppose you’re a Stanford female (quite the catch I might add) and you’re interested in this guy, with whom you’ve interacted at least enough to warrant a Facebook friendship. Wanting to know more about him, you “browse” (read: study) his Facebook page and begin to glean the necessary information. Yup, you reassure yourself, he’s single. Then comes the arduous photo review process, where you learn everything from the names of siblings, best friends, and ex-girlfriends to his family’s favorite vacation spots, all the while thanking God for making him so much hotter now than he was in high school. Meanwhile, you share the results of your preliminary research with your girlfriends and they’re excited for you—some even partake in the “data gathering.” And if you ever reach the point where you start dating him, well, you might even consider expanding your data set to include Google search results.
Though the above scenario is indeed stereotypical, romantic “research” is an increasingly common factor in twenty-first century dating. And from the perspective of information technology, the massive amount of data exchanged during the dating—or even just the liking—process lends itself quite well to a potential technological consolidation of “dating intelligence.”
It is upon these observations that Lulu was launched. Dubbed “Sex and the City Meets Facebook” by Cosmopolitan, Lulu is a ladies-only, mobile web-based app that has recently gripped the attention of female college students throughout the United States. The app allows female users to anonymously give numerical ratings to their male counterparts on everything from his manners and level of commitment to the quality of his kisses and sexual performance. There is also a “Best and Worst” section where ladies can more descriptively review the man in question by selecting pre-set hashtags like #CleansUpGood, #SixPack, #SmellsAmazeballs, and #LovesHisFamily for more positive attributes, and #NapoleonComplex, #SketchyCallLog, #TotalF***ingDickhead, and #GoneByMorning, for more negative qualities.
Founded in London by two young, successful entrepreneurs, Alexandra Chong and Alison Schwartz, Lulu raised $2.5 million in funding last February. According to Business Insider, “80 million profiles have been viewed on Lulu, 12 million searches have been conducted, 7.5 million reviews have been read, and there have been 6 million user sessions,” all within the last three months. And while Lulu does not have an official presence at Stanford (according to a *Daily *interview with Chong) it is increasing in popularity on campus, with many Stanford men featured on the app.
Yet Lulu is making headlines not necessarily because of the product’s originality, but because of its controversial nature, with people either loving or hating it. Some women find the app useful for revealing whether or not their new romantic interest is, in the words of Lulu’s own website, “a wolf in sheep’s clothing.” But many criticize the app, arguing that it “objectifies men” while violating their privacy. This is because in addition to the Yelp-like nature of the reviews, men can have no idea they are being rated since the app is Facebook-based. In other words, once a woman downloads Lulu onto her phone, the app creates Lulu profiles for her male Facebook friends, pulling basic information from their own Facebook profiles. In order to avoid being rated, men have to submit a written request to Lulu to have their profiles removed.
A contributor to the Review, who shall remain anonymous, pointed out that this was an area of serious concern for him. “One of my biggest problems is that I have no choice to participate,” he wrote to the Review. “If someone wants to be part of a platform where men are rated, then that’s their choice (although I think it’s silly) but I think Lulu is really problematic because everyone is automatically opted in, even if they have serious problems with the platform.”
He added, “It’s just weird to me that my mother and sister can read all about my romantic life. When else has private information been that public in society? It’s just weird.”
And, indeed, I agree that the app is problematic. Having downloaded Lulu myself in order to write this article, I also do find it a bit strange, especially when some of the men that come up on my “Dashboard” include my brother and my own father. Perhaps even more strangely, not only are some of these men not my Facebook friends, they are not men—they are boys, sometimes as young as 13 or 14. I recall encountering one particular profile in which the age listed is 21 and the “college” listed is actually a middle school. The accompanying profile picture is one of a boy who cannot be above 15. His ratings, however, include everything from #Big.Feet to #F*edMeAndChuckedMe to #420. Recall that Lulu requires its users to verify that they are at least 17 years old.
Equally as disturbing is the discrepancy of information that seems to exist between Lulu and Facebook. For example, when cross-referencing the Facebook and Lulu profiles of this 21-year-old middle school Casanova, nowhere was there any indication that he put 21 as his age on Facebook, as indicated on his Lulu profile. Similarly, when I cross-referenced the Lulu and Facebook profiles of the *Review *contributor above (with whom I am actually friends), the latter makes no mention of his birth year but indicates that he is 39 on Lulu, when he in fact is a college-aged student.
Perhaps my reservation lies not so much with the app’s violation of privacy, but with the small, accumulating damage it might do to the reputations of good but imperfect men. Browsing through the Lulu profiles of a few friends, I couldn’t help but fear that one day a girl might allow the lines #RudeToWaiters and #GoneByMorning to shape—however so slightly—her impression of these guys. Or, worse, if those lines would leave a more lasting impression on her than things like #BelievesInLove and #WorkEthic. The process of befriending or dating someone is so rewarding perhaps because of the continuous discovery of the other’s best and worst qualities—i.e. what makes them who they are. A million hashtags could not capture this.
Problematic as the app may be, the controversy Lulu has garnered nevertheless presents us with an invaluable opportunity to evaluate critically the extent to which social media affects our everyday relationships. Known (or perhaps, criticized) as the generation demanding constancy in connection and instancy in information, we should ask ourselves more than the mere question of what a new social media platform can give us, but what it might require us to sacrifice. Apart from our privacy, is our ability to connect deeply with others being affected by our often shallow interactions with others online? In the particular case of Lulu, women indeed might gain knowledge about a man that would heavily influence her decision to continue seeing him. But then would we just be sacrificing an opportunity to really get to know him, based on a few dirty little secrets from his past, revealed by an anonymous woman on her phone?