As a single millennial on the internet, I've been around the dating app block. While I've long-since given up on them, occasionally I give in and download one for a week. The latest app I tried was Badoo, after a press release landed in my inbox touting its ability to find me a celebrity lookalike. I went for it, thinking it would be some harmless fun. But it turned out to just be quite depressing.
The Lookalikes feature in Badoo isn't new, having released back in July last year, but it is still highly emphasised both in Badoo's press releases and on the app itself.
The email claimed that "60% of men and 75% of women would like to date someone who looks like their celebrity crush," but is "you looked like that hot guy from that film" really a good basis for a relationship? And is it even practically possible?
Badoo's app looks a lot like Tinder in places, and a little like Messenger in others. It asks you to upload a photo of yourself before you start: no anonymous browsing here. I uploaded a photo of my cat, because I was all about being anaonymous, but almost immediately got pulled up as the app detected that I wasn't actually uploading a photo of myself. Creepy.
It's also worth noting that Badoo immediately slaps its own watermark on your photo once it's uploaded. Hooray!
This is also potentially the first time a dating app has actually tried to neg me. While apps like Tinder have secret internal popularity rankings, Badoo shoves your popularity (or lack of) in your face right there on your profile.
My 'very low popularity' was of course coupled with pop up notifications informing me how I could increase my popularity by engaging more with the apps features, uploading more photos or filling out more information in my profile. But nevermind that, I was there for Lookalikes.
Opening up the Lookalikes tab, the first thing Badoo shows you is your own lookalikes. Weirdly, it doesn't show you what celebrities it thinks you look like, but what users it thinks you look like, in case you've ever wanted to date a carbon copy of yourself or something.
What I learned from this page is that either Badoo's facial recognition is either not all that accurate or I am a very standard white woman (both equally possible options). There were certainly no striking resemblances to be found.
As I moved to start scrolling through the options for celebrity lookalikes, I was struck by the decidedly odd choice of celebrities Badoo decided to show to me. Travis Kalanick? Donald Trump? Elon Musk? Is there really a huge market for dating these lookalikes?
Perhaps luckily, the app doesn't seem to have too many close lookalikes for its various celebrities. You'll just get a old white guy for Trump, or a whole lot of Indonesian men for Elon Musk for some reason. The only convincing matches were people who had actually ripped photos of said celebrity to use on their profile (or accidentally stood in front of a giant poster in their profile photo).
Either way, the longer I scrolled through, the clearer it became that Lookalikes really wasn't about finding a partner at all.
For starters, there was no location filter on it. Even if I found the fake Rihanna of my dreams, there wasn't a single profile listed who actually lived anywhere near me. So unless you get really lucky, the feature isn't practical for dating.
Beyond that is what happens when you click to view one of the profiles. Instead of getting to the profile straight away, you get a photo comparing your potential match's image to the picture of their supposed celebrity lookalike. Underneath is a prompt to share with all your friends through your social network of choice, with Badoo's branding featuring prominently on the post.
I don't know about you, but when I sign up to a dating app I don't anticipate it ending in my photo being shared around Facebook with "wow, this chick really looks like Shia Labeouf's weird Australian cousin!" Realising that my own photos could just as easily come up in these searches and prompt to be shared quickly turned the exercise from mildly amusing to kind of creepy.
I quickly started feeling weird about even the single bland photo I had put up on my profile, and once I had all the screenshots I needed I deleted it and uninstalled the app - though not before discovering that it was literally impossible to delete photos off your profile unless you upload another one to replace it.
I have to wonder if that friendly-looking old man smiling at the top of the 'Donald Trump' lookalikes page knows he's being touted as a Trump lookalike, packaged up into nice little shareable images that someone will get a good laugh out of at his expense. Are these people in on the fun, or does the feature just take advantage of hopeful, lonely people who may or may not have a strong resemblance to some ageing tech billionaire?
As concerns about online privacy and harassment rise, this kind of gimmick starts to seem less like a bit of fun and more like a case of online harassment waiting to happen.