Perhaps you missed it amidst all the hubbub surrounding Match.com's purchase of OkCupid, but this week a new dating site called Lovely-Faces.com launched with 250,000 member profiles--a sea of names and smiling faces neatly categorized by gender, nationality and personality type (do you prefer your partner smug or sly?). Not bad for a new venture, right?
Thing is, those smiling faces were blissfully unaware that they had signed up for Lovely Faces' services, or that they were considered "easy going men" or "funny women." The site's creators--Paolo Cirio and Alessandro Ludovico--had simply scraped their members' photos, names, and "likes" from publicly accessible Facebook pages and assigned each member a personality type based on facial recognition software, Wired reports.
Cirio and Ludovico, who both work in media in Europe and have also pranked Google and Amazon, claim they launched the site--which is down as of this writing--to illuminate how vulnerable our virtual identities are in the age of social media: "Facebook, an endlessly cool place for so many people, becomes at the same time a goldmine for identity theft and dating--unfortunately, without the user’s control ... Almost everything posted online can have a different life if simply recontextualized."
A Facebook spokesman told Wired that Cirio and Ludovic violated the site's terms of service by not asking permission to gather data from its pages, and is investigating the duo. How are others reacting?
- Cirio and Ludovico Accomplished Their Mission, argues Kyana Gordon at PSFK. The mission, she explains, "was to break Facebook's social rules and limitations by giving the stolen virtual identities a new shared place to express themselves freely."
- But the Ends Don't Justify the Means, claims Business Insider's Matt Rosoff: "It looks like an awkward commentary on the shallowness of online dating profiles and Facebook's confusing privacy policies, but violating privacy to make a point about privacy doesn't work very well."
- Facebook's Stance Is Ironic, notes Wired's Ryan Singel. "It's a bit funny hearing Facebook complain about scraping of personal data that is quasi-public. Mark Zuckerberg, the company's founder, made his name at Harvard in 2003 by scraping the names and photos of fellow classmates off school servers to feed a system called FaceMash."
- Legal Action Could Be Difficult, speculates Jackie Cohen at All Facebook. Cirio and Ludovico claim that Lovely Faces is a "work of art" (well, right now, a non-functioning web page) and aren't in the U.S., which complicates a lawsuit, she says. Cohen reasons that this might explain why the creators are discussing their work so candidly, adding that Cirio and Ludovico even "made it sound like LovelyFaces was doing the 250,000 people a favor by putting their likenesses on the site, presuming that they even need the services of an online dating application."