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The New Technology of Creepiness: Online Ways to Date, Stalk, Home-Wreck, and Cheat

Exclusive dating sites! Sites for cheaters! Tools to end relationships! A look at the rash of recent creepy tech.

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Technology is only as good as its users. The Internet helps us communicate, connect, and live our lives, with all that entails. So it only makes sense that, for those Internet users who happen to be creeps, the Internet should have a place for them, too.

That’s the conclusion reached when you take a brief survey of some of the new and newly popular romance-oriented sites and apps that have sprung up. About a week ago, a Facebook app called Breakup Notifier broke big overnight, attracting 100,000 users in a matter of hours. How did the app work? Simple: It tracked the relationship status of friends you were interested in becoming more than friends with, and would tell you when they were newly single. “I just really hope people use it for good, not evil,” the app’s creator told the New York Daily News. “It’s really a practical thing. If you’re going to refresh someone’s page 20 times a day, why not have an alert on it?” Facebook has since blocked the app.

But Facebook may be playing whack-a-mole with an idea as explosive as this. Over the last few days, an even more ambitiously creepy app has arisen, this one called WaitingRoom. Breakup Notifier was just an alert; WaitingRoom makes you an active player in trying to break up a couple. Let’s say you are a creep. And you want one of your Facebook friends to become single. You install WaitingRoom (it’s done anonymously–no alerts to all your friends on this one), and list which friend or friends you’re “waiting” for. That friend then gets a notice that someone out there–it doesn’t yet specify who–is hoping your relationship crashes and burns. WaitingRoom sees it as a win-win: “If you’re already in a relationship, WaitingRoom will give you the confidence to become single again,” advertises the app. If you are the object of someone’s affections, and you decide to break up with your significant other, then 48 hours after the breakup, your crushes are revealed.

The new app conjures imagery of an underdog narrative familiar to romantic comedies: a cheerleader is stuck in a relationship with a loveless jock; a lovable geek telegraphs his interest; she ditches the brawny zero for the scrawny hero, and the two lovebirds live happily ever after. But two other scenarios seem far more likely: 1) a person in a good relationship has her mind undone with fantasies of the Prince Charmings who are in her “waiting room.” She ruins her good relationship only to realize that a bunch of ugly people want to date her, which she kind of already knew. 2) A person in a good relationship gets notified of people in her waiting room. “That’s hilarious,” says her hunky boyfriend. “Here, let’s take our relationship off of Facebook so we can see who these losers are, and then I will beat them up.” They “break up” on Facebook but continue their relationship in the realm in which it actually matters, and a few creeps have made fools of themselves.

Other rising dating sites are unsettling in different ways. The New York Times recently profiled the Columbia University business students behind Datemyschool.com, which just nabbed half a million dollars of investment. The idea behind Datemyschool.com is very simple; so simple, indeed, that others have struck on it before, most notably a young man named Mark Zuckerberg. Datemyschool is an exclusive dating site; initially it was only open to Columbia students, but it has since been expanded to NYU, the Fashion Institute of Technology (a friend convinced site founder Jean Meyer that hot girls there wanted to date guys at Columbia) as well as UC Berkeley, and Stanford. “The site is elitist, and all the better for it,” one user unselfconsciously tells the New York Times, immortalizing her name in Google searches from prospective suitors in the future. Meyer, who is French, appears confident that he is destined for greatness: “I don’t care when people call me ‘The French Zuckerberg’ in the hallways,” he said to the Times. “Mark Zuckerberg is successful.”

Last, but certainly not least, is arguably the creepiest site of all: AshleyMadison.com, a dating network for cheaters. “Life is short. Have an affair,” reads the tagline to the site (the “o” in the name “Madison” is a wedding band). “Listen, I don’t think anyone is going to give me a Nobel Prize anytime soon,” the site’s founder, Noel Biderman, admitted in a recent interview.

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[Image: Flickr user Katie Blench]

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About the author

David Zax is a contributing writer for Fast Company. His writing has appeared in many publications, including Smithsonian, Slate, Wired, and The Wall Street Journal

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