When Did Dating Tech Start Getting So Creepy?

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When I see a cute stranger on the train, or walking down the street, most days I’ll exchange nothing more with them beyond a curious stare or two before our paths diverge, after which I’m free to fantasize about what books he reads, how he feels about Girls, and whether he takes his coffee with cream or sugar. Often I’ll get butterflies. I live for the excitement of letting someone potentially great get away, and of potentially crossing paths with them again.

But recently, it feels like there’s a new string of dating technologies that seems hellbent on destroying the magic of the meet-cute, the Craigslist Missed Connection, and the premise of every romcom ever. When did meeting a potential date start getting so creepy?

Let’s start with MoID, an iOS and Android app marketed toward power-networkers that uses your smartphone’s sensors to “remember” people you’ve met in real life so you can exchange contact information with them later, even days after you met, across a multitude of social networks. With MoID, you’re not even required to have met the person in question if you’re trying to seek them out. MoID will suggest people “you might know” based on how physically close you guys were at a given time. In MoID’s words, it’s “your second chance for the first contact.” In my words, it’s “yet another chance for some creeper to harass me for my number.” I usually have a good reason for not offering my phone number to someone I’ve just met — namely, that I don’t want them to have it.

The concept behind apps like MoID gets much scarier when you start thinking about dating tech for wearable devices. NameTag, a new real-time facial recognition app for Google Glass, is one such dating tech that uses Glass’s built-in camera to let you snap a picture of a stranger and identifies any online identities associated with that person’s face, like an online dating profile, a Twitter account, or even a coveted spot on a list of registered sex offenders. (NameTag is still in beta. Google’s Glass official policy still forbids developers from building apps with facial recognition tech.)  And we’ve already written about Playdope, which lets you meet strangers on the street through a GPS-enabled game.

Some tech advocates will say these apps have an overall positive effect on the future of dating — it’s good, they’d say, to be able to identify the faces we’re curious about within this big, anonymous world. It’s also good, they’d say, to be able to identify potentially dangerous sex offenders on the spot. Hugh Grant might say, “If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around.”

But as we increasingly depend on technology to do more things on our behalf, from keeping our appointments to getting us job interviews, do we really want it artificially engineering our romances, too? If that doesn’t convince you, you can always consider the sheer strangeness of having a complete stranger contact you without ever having met you.

So to dating tech, I say: Let’s leave a little to mystery, shall we? I don’t want to discover the guy I saw on the subway this morning has an online dating profile in which he waxes poetic about how much he loves Molière. I don’t want to live in a world without meet-cutes. And I don’t want to give up the butterflies.

Image via Veer