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I Signed Up for a Creepy New Mobile Dating App... So You Don't Have To!

Dan Jones

If you sometimes wonder how much more intrusive location-based mobile apps can get, well, here comes Happn to give you an idea.

Happn is a new mobile dating app that started in Paris, France but is now in the US. It is expected to have more than 10 million users by the end of the year.

"Find the people you've crossed paths with," is the app's tagline, and this is literally what it does. It uses the GPS on your phone to show who you have passed -- and who has passed you -- in the city, on your phone.

A friend told me about it last week. I was interested to see how the location piece works, so I downloaded the app.

The app links to your Facebook profile and scrapes photos and some of your details from that. So you get pictures of the people you pass, interests and friends in common and a paragraph to fill in a few details about yourself. Then you can set whether you are interested in men or women. Beyond that the details you can add are fairly minimal. The real difference between Happn and other mobile dating apps, however, is that it maps where you pass a person, when and how often, to a fairly accurate degree.

For instance, the app tells me that I have passed a user we'll call "Pamela" -- because that's her name -- three times already. She was on 34th Street, two minutes ago, and that she is now less than 250 meters away. Light Reading's glamorous NYC home is in a rat's nest of rented offices on 34th street. Certainly not impossible that Pamela is right here, somewhere in the building.

"Security was one of the pillars of our thinking when we built Happn," CEO and Founder Didier Rappaport told Business Insider in May. "When you are very near someone, we will never say 'You are 10 meters,' we will say 'You are less than 250 meters' -- you don't have any flag on the maps. We don't record the exact journeys of people, we just remember the crossing points."

Get the latest mobile news, analysis and opinion on Light Reading's Mobile content channel.

It doesn't take an evil genius -- or even someone who can do a decent impression of Dr. Evil come Halloween time -- however, to realize that you're getting a lot of information about people's movements with this app. It was pretty easy to figure out when users regularly pass my apartment, for instance, because the app makes it easy to notice patterns in user movements.

Interestingly, not everyone finds all of this that worrying. I talked to about ten people about this app -- men and women -- over the weekend. They were split about 50/50 on whether it was creepy or cool. Some people, both male and female, found the idea of knowing who they were passing on a daily basis intriguing.

Me? I think I'm still solidly in the "it's way creepy" camp! I'm going to wipe the app. But Happn is obviously gaining new users at a fast clip anyway.

— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

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[email protected]
8/26/2015 | 6:05:51 AM
Is this a Happn stance?
Dan, are you taking a Happn stance?

I'm here all week....
8/26/2015 | 11:00:19 AM
Thank you Dan for warning us.

On any appstore Apple's or Google's or Microsoft's there is lot of crapware!
8/26/2015 | 11:41:23 AM
Re: crapware!
Sounds like match.com for the body-parts-in-the-freezer set.
Sarah Thomas
Sarah Thomas
8/26/2015 | 12:00:17 PM
Re: crapware!
No kidding. As a (married) woman, I would never use this app. I can appreciate younger people might not have the same privacy sensitivity as older people, but this isn't just a privacy thing, it sounds unsafe...and super creepy.
8/26/2015 | 12:08:30 PM
Re: crapware!
As we're learning with Ashley Madison, there's all sorts of creepy finding a home in Internetland.
Sarah Thomas
Sarah Thomas
8/26/2015 | 3:30:42 PM
Re: crapware!
I know. Running into Dan on a dating app is now the least of our worries...
8/26/2015 | 3:45:52 PM
Re: crapware!
The one consolation here is that the people who opt in for this app are generally cut from the same questionable cloth. So let the mutual stalking begin...
8/26/2015 | 4:36:13 PM
Re: crapware!
Heh, I deleted the app.
8/27/2015 | 2:28:40 AM
Crime assistant
There are numerous other ways of using such an app; doesn't take much to figure them out.

Think stalking; a perfect app for that.

Or suppose I wanted to burgle Pamela's home. I would be happy to know just how far she is.

8/27/2015 | 9:33:24 AM
Re: Crime assistant
I would use the app if it werent for dating, in order to locate peers of people of same interest. Let's say you are attending a huge event: MWC, with 80k somewhat visitors. I would love to be able to locate people of interest that are in a walking distance, or find out where my colleagues are instead of having to call each every hour or so. Of course, the app needs to have access to LBS accurate data location services for indoor detection.

In addition, users should be able to fairly opt out from being detected, should they wish to do so(time based, location based, or simply by disabling the feature manually).

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