Facebook Hookup Apps: Privacy Disaster Waiting to Happen?

Recently, the controversial Bang With Friends app was launched on Facebook as way to facilitate “hooking up” with your friends and currently boasts over 100,000 users.    It is common knowledge sex sells, and research shows that Facebook articles with sex in the title are more than 90% more likely to be shared than non-sexual posts.  One could argue that it was only a matter of time before hookup/casual sex applications permeated this interactive social media platform. 

Bang with Friends assures users privacy and anonymity, but how private are they really?  Do Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms have partial access to the personal information collected by the apps, and if so, what is done with the data after is it collected?  Why type of data does Bang With Friends collect and in what cases would Bang With Friends release information?  It is all too common for people’s careers to be taken down over sexual scandals, so how protected is the information of those who engage in Bang With Friends?

How It Works

Bang With Friends is making the media rounds.  The creators designed the app with the intention of allowing Facebook friends to pair up.  In the app you select the friends you want to “bang”.  If another friend you selected also selected you to bang, it displays the match and notifies both parties.  According to a Daily Beast interview with the creators, the app was intended to take out the awkwardness of dating and sex:“ The California-based group thought of the idea as a way to improve standard online dating sites like eHarmony or “One night, we were shooting the sh*t about how online dating is broken,” said one creator. “What a lot of people want is just to skip all the sh*t and get to the sex.” The conversation evolved to Facebook, a social media platform used mainly by 18-34 years olds, many of whom are in college and use social media to connect with pals. “It would be great, as guys, if you could find out which girls are actually into you and not dance around anything,”

The site promises you will “Remain anonymous when finding out who of your Facebook friends wanna bang with you.”  Still, Facebook applications require some personal information from your profile in order to run properly and enhance your social interactive experience.  What information the app collects depends on the application, and Facebook settings allow control over how information is shared to an extent.  Bang With Friends requires: email address, relationship status, relationship details and photos in order to operate and make matches. 

Privacy Concerns

privacy venn diagram`
Graphic by Dave MHoffman. Licensed under Creative Commons.

What we do online can haunt us offline, now and into the future.  Data on our casual sexual encounters and behavior can potentially be far more damaging than data on what car or T-shirt we purchase.   As students, we continue to warned by both our professors, career advisors and the deluge of scandalous news stories on how our online behavior can hurt our reputations offline.  In fact, Google’s Eric Schmidt recently told a reporter that he was convinced online identities are now so important and pervasive, “parents will have to have the ‘online privacy’ talk with their children before ‘the sex talk’” and “It might be when they’re eight years old, you’ll be saying ‘don’t put that online! It’ll come back to bite you!’ and then have to explain why.”

While the media swarmed over the application, not many are asking about the privacy and security of the information collected on users.  Where does this data live?  Facebook profiles have our names and personal information; could it ever be linked to expose the sordid details of someone? Additionally, what happens in a security breach?   How private is it and in what cases will Bang With Friends share that information?  The privacy policy of the company is pretty generic, promising information is collected with the main purpose of enhancing user experience.  What stood out to me is the site’s description of how it protects information:

“We adopt appropriate data collection, storage and processing practices and security measures to protect against unauthorized access, alteration, disclosure or destruction of your personal information, username, password, transaction information and data stored on our Site.”

But it does not go into more detail on data security than that!

Additionally, the application does collect personal identification information, but only information users agree to supply.

“We may collect personal identification information from Users in a variety of ways, including, but not limited to, when Users visit our site, register on the site, and in connection with other activities, services, features or resources we make available on our Site.. We will collect personal identification information from Users only if they voluntarily submit such information to us. Users can always refuse to supply personally identification information, except that it may prevent them from engaging in certain Site related activities.”

Finally, the site’s privacy policy states that while it does share aggregated demographic information collected on its users, it does not share identifiable information.

“We do not sell, trade, or rent Users personal identification information to others. We may share generic aggregated demographic information not linked to any personal identification information regarding visitors and users with our business partners, trusted affiliates and advertisers for the purposes outlined above.”

Let us hope that is true!

While these are common measures and stances taken by companies in their privacy policies,  it still does not address long term data privacy concerns.  Additionally, the creators admitted to the Daily Beast the application was made overnight:  “We’ll be honest with you, we made this in two hours… with a lot of Red Bull and vodka … and it took off on its own.”  Does that sounds like founders especially concerned with or who have given much thought to the security measures in protecting their users’ information?  

Sex Predators, More Considerations

While utilizing the internet to facilitate casual hook ups may seem great, let us not forget the bad ways the internet is used.    There are an assortment of horrific new stories on online sex offenders and pedophiles utilizing Facebook, despite law enforcement and the social media giant’s efforts to protect younger users.  Could these casual sex type applications be utilized by sexual predators?  Bang with Friends is clearly intended for older users.  According to the Daily Beast, one of the creators admitted she would not allow her younger sister to utilize the app.    On the official website, the company claims protecting the privacy of the young in line with online privacy protection act is especially important and will “never collect or maintain information at our website from those we actually know are under 18, and no part of our website is structured to attract anyone under 18.”  But, again, that is only users they know are under 18.  What measures they take to identity and stop younger users?

As we all know, once something is on the internet, it is not truly private.  Privacy in regards to the internet continuess to be debated, and there is little doubt casual hookup applications, especially those linked to our social media profiles, will add another layer to the debate.  For a lot of younger users especially, this may seem like a great “opportunity”, but what about the future consequences decades into the future if one is linked with a liaison or even worse, if recently when applying for a job?    While they may appear private, there is no information or precedent to confirm this will be true 5, 10, 15 years (or even a year) down the road.  Is it worth it? Do you want to entrust a company with information linked to your social media profile and potential sexual escapades for that long?

Share your thoughts in the comments or tweet me @doroteaszkolar.

Dorotea Szkolar

I am an alumna of the iSchool MLIS program and am mainly interested in writing about technology and libraries. Contact me at or @doroteaszkolar if you would like to chat.

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