Supporters of the service often view Lulu as justified payback for rampant misogyny found around the Web, a way for the women to have a voice in the male-dominated online world. But as my colleague Molly McHugh notes, Lulu is not justice; it is simply the same kind of unfair, discriminating behavior, but from the opposite sex.
And yet, that is not the part of Lulu that I found the most offensive. People are judgmental, no matter what they have between their legs. No, the worst part about Lulu is how it gets all the guys to review onto into its app in the first place. Below, we’ll hike our way through the legal muck that allows Lulu users to do their worst.
Facebook and beyond
The first important thing to know about Lulu is that, to sign up for a profile, you must login using Facebook Connect. (The company does not limit registration to Facebook in its terms, but that’s currently the only way to sign up.) By doing so, you consent to Lulu snatching up massive amounts of the data you’ve made available on Facebook. How much data you ask? Read on.
Scrape all the data!
According to Lulu’s terms, the data it may access is, well, pretty much everything that is not under the tightest settings lockdown. This includes “your ‘real’ name, email address, profile information (including but not limited to birthday, education history, hometown, location, relationship status), profile picture, photos.” That “not limited to” part allows Lulu to grab whatever else you may have made publicly available on your Facebook profile that’s not listed here.
One more thing…
Up to this point, Lulu is no more offensive that nearly any other app that bases its registration on Facebook Connect. But this part is – and it’s central to Lulu’s entire game: In addition to scraping your Facebook data, Lulu also grabs the “names and profile pictures of your friends, your friends’ profile information (including but not limited to birthday, education history, hometown, location, relationship status).” (Emphasis mine) That, ladies and gentlemen, is how Lulu gets all the guys it lets users review.
In other words, fellas, if your female Facebook friends sign up for Lulu, you could very well have a profile on the service. (I do, for instance, despite the fact that I hadn’t heard of Lulu until last week.) That said, Lulu does not automatically gobble up all the male friends of a Lulu user, according to the company – only the ones whose Facebook app privacy settings remain flimsy and weak.
“Just to be clear (as this is a common misunderstanding), a Lulu user does not, by virtue of signing up via Facebook, upload all of her male Facebook friends and their data to Lulu,” Lulu co-founder Alison Schwartz tells me. But, as evidenced by the fact that my photo and other data exits on Lulu, certainly some unwilling men get their Facebook identities swept up in this social data exchange – and that’s because our Facebook app privacy settings aren’t what they should be. (See, it’s our fault, not Lulu’s! We should have seen this coming! Sigh…)
Schwartz also clarifies that only users who create their own profile on the male version, LuluDude – “of which there are several hundreds of thousands,” she says – “can be seen by any Lulu user.”
Feel reassured that your data is being used in a fair way? Me neither.
It wasn’t me!
OK, so now that we have the whole “How in the hell does Lulu have a right to my data?” thing (sort of) cleared up. Let’s dive into the other part of Lulu that makes it bothersome to those who might care less about data privacy: The reviews themselves.
Lulu explains that it “exists to provide you with entertainment and amusement opportunities as well as provide access to the subjective wisdom owned and contributed by both Lulu and LuluDude users.” As you might imagine, some of the “subjective wisdom” that appears on Lulu is pretty invasive, nasty stuff.
Now, the reason Lulu doesn’t get sued into oblivion – aside from the part of its terms that waive your right to sue the company for damn near anything – is an important law called the Communications Decency Act (CDA). Section 230 of that law removes all liability from websites and online services that allow users to post their own words – comments, updates, tweets, classified ads, etc. It is, quite literally, the legislation that enables much of the Web – from Facebook to Craigslist – to exist at all. It is also the law that make unsavory services like Lulu completely legal.
If you do find out that someone has posted false, slanderous, defamatory things about you on Lulu, your only real option is to sue the person who posted those things. Lulu itself is, more or less, off the hook.
Odds & ends
The rest of the (quite long) Lulu terms are fairly standard stuff – the company can change the terms at any time, you’re not allowed to use Lulu to break the law, and your account can be deleted or suspended by Lulu if you violate the terms in any way.
“… Luluvise may use or otherwise exploit your Member Content for its promotional or commercial purposes. In such instances, Luluvise will only use or exploit your Member Content in a manner that does not identify you individually (i.e. your name and identifying information will be stripped from the applicable Member Content). “
For the record, this is the first time I’ve seen a company actually use the word “exploit” with reference to user data. A Freudian slip, perhaps?
After reading all this, some of you may now be clamoring for a way to get yourself off of Lulu as quickly as possible. If you are a user of Lulu – a woman, not a guy being reviewed – you can “deactivate” your account through the settings, or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Guys who use LuluDude have to send their emails to email@example.com.
Upon deactivation, Lulu says that it “will use commercially reasonable efforts” to delete your data, but “may retain an archived copy of your records as required by law or for legitimate business purposes.”
For you guys who do not use Lulu or LuluDude, but instead appear on the service unwillingly, you have two options: First, you can log in to LuluDude and deactivate yourself. But that means handing the company your Facebook data. Your other (much better) option, is to email Lulu your Facebook username (facebook.com/YOURUSERNAME), and demand to have your profile removed from the service.
Regardless of which deactivation method you use, says Schwartz, the only bit of data Lulu retains is your Facebook ID. And it does that to ensure none of your other “friends” create a review profile for your.
“When a guy requests removal, either via LuluDude or via community management channels, all of his data is deleted except for his Facebook ID,” says Schwartz. “His profile and reviews (if any) are permanently deleted. We retain his Facebook ID (but only the ID – no gender or other information is attached to it) to ensure that he never reappears on the app (unless he reactivates himself, and 40 percent of guys reactivate themselves within a week of deactivating themselves).”
Perhaps you’re one of the several hundred thousand guys who want to be on Lulu, to see what women think of you. That’s cool. It’s your reputation, subject it to whatever you please. But if you’re like me, if you are being reviewed on Lulu or could be reviewed on Lulu because your name and face appear in the app without your consent, then there’s only one thing to do: Lock down your Facebook app privacy settings to the most restrictive possible. It’s the only way to keep yourself out of this mess.