TL;DR Twoo bought all of the users from Q&A site spring.me (formerly Formspring) and is now marketing them to each other as questionable dating matches without ever asking for their permission to do so.
Remember Formspring? That was a bit of fun wasn’t it! You could ask people random silly questions, perhaps anonymously, and get back random silly answers. It was like a precursor to Secret or Whisper. Of course, we all got a bit bored of it, but you were still signed up. They still had you on record, that valuable private data of a company not worth much to anyone. What if you wanted to start a new company and didn’t want to go to all the fuss of building up a new user base? Why you could just buy the old signups that belonged to an older failing company. That’s what Twoo did. Welcome to Twoo. You have been bought, and now you’re being marketed, because Twoo, is a dating site. The big questions are: Is this ethical? Is this legal?
I first became aware of Twoo last month. To be honest, I’d been receiving lots of random emails from spring.me that I was mostly ignoring. Apparently a couple of years ago, Formspring renamed itself to spring.me, not that anyone noticed or cared, a fad is a fad, no matter how much you may try to rename it, we weren’t paying attention anymore. But after years of silence, as of summer last year (2014), spring.me was sending me emails, regularly telling me I was getting questions from people that would have no idea who I was and have no reason to ask such odd questions. Questions like “Do you do your own laundry?”
Then it became even weirder, most of my notifications from spring.me stopped being questions from people, whom I can only assume were fake, but they became “Someone Smiled at you on Spring.me!” You can probably guess, me being male, all these notifications were supposedly from women. For a Q&A site, why there was ever a need to smile at random users, I didn’t know.
Then on 25th of July 2015, I received my first message from Twoo. There was no warning that I was no longer a member of a Q&A site and was now a member of Twoo. No, this was my first notification from a sender named as “spring.me / Twoo”. I won’t post the image of the girl here, but it was a notification – “Roxie is your new SmartMatch. Check her out.” In case you’re wondering, Roxie was wearing a very short dress, Roxie had a seductive pose, Roxie’s bio said that she was a high school student. I’m a 27-year-old man, Twoo recommended I check out Roxie, a high school student, and they just so happened to do it on the day I was getting married.
I now receive a new notification from Twoo every day with a new “Smart Match”. I am told I must make contact with these girls within 24 hours or they will “expire.” I joked with my fellow Geek Scot writers about the dating site playing hardball, making girl’s lives “expire” if I don’t talk to them. But I wasn’t wrong to think Twoo was doing something wrong. Many of the bios of these girls say things like “ask me anything”… in other words, they think they’re on a Q&A site. It suddenly occurred to me, in all likelihood, my own picture and bio from FormSpring is being sent out too.
It’s worth noting that I hadn’t actually realised spring.me was Formspring. Indeed, I’ve checked through my emails and there was never any announcement to me that the name had changed, so initially, I hadn’t realised who Twoo were or where they could have got my details from.
I decided to vent my concerns on Twitter:
@apbarratt Spring.me and Twoo joined forces, enabling all Spring.me users to connect with millions of Twoo users. Your account was moved.
— Twoo (@Twoo) August 18, 2015
Twoo simply got back to me to say
“Spring.me and Twoo joined forced, enabling all Spring.me users to connect with millions of Twoo users. Your account was moved.”
Notice that while they say two companies “joined forces”, they don’t say that I, therefore, have two accounts or access to Twoo using my old spring.me account, they say it outright, “your account was moved” full stop.
Clearly, given that my account and all my information was moved with no notification, as you would expect from any other merger, there were ethical questions here. So I raised those with Twoo.
Does @Twoo think it unethical to take thousands of Q&A site users, sign them up to a dating site & send their details to each other?
— Andy Barratt (@apbarratt) August 18, 2015
After several hours, Twoo responded with an apparent stock response (you can find it in other tweets to other complaints):
@apbarratt We wanted to give all active Spring.me accounts the opportunity to keep in touch with the people they have met on Spring.me.
— Twoo (@Twoo) August 18, 2015
They also sent an email saying that they believe they are only upgrading spring.me users from one old platform to a new, more advanced platform, though they failed to mention at any point the fact that this new, more advanced platform was an entirely different service.
In July, Spring.me and Twoo joined forces, thus enabling all Spring.me users to connect with millions of Twoo users. It appears you had an active account on Spring.me (used to be called formspring), and that account was moved to the new and improved platform Twoo.
They say they just wanted to allow spring.me users to “stay in touch”, the fact that the service provided to them to do this is a dating site, seems irrelevant.
Lots of people still had an active account on Spring.me. Instead of having the platform simply closed down, we wanted to give everyone the opportunity to keep in touch with the people they have met on Spring.me and to not lose their data. By moving everyone to the new platform, we make sure everyone can continue their Spring.me journey on a new and improved platform.
Twoo has (at the time of writing) failed to reply properly to my question of if they think their actions ethical, but fellow Geek Scot writer Jane Wilson pointed out something to me:
— Jane Wilson (@janewilson90) August 18, 2015
She observed that the vast majority of Tweets from Twoo were apologies to people. Indeed, I couldn’t find a single positive conversational tweet happening between Twoo and its “users”.
I decided to reach out to some of these users. In doing so, Gareth Griffiths, a Scottish developer living in Denmark told me a very familiar story.
I first became aware of ‘Twoo’ when I started receiving emails from them every other day starting from the 4th of this month. The emails came from ‘Spring.me / Twoo’ and as I was a user of spring.me, I didn’t think much of the emails, but just to ignore them. The “Say hello to <girls_name>, your new SmartMatch” subjects were a little odd, but still didn’t peak my interest enough to be able to open any of the emails.
Like me, he had randomly started receiving emails from Twoo, and ignored them at first.
On the 11th of August, I received an email from ‘Twoo’, not ‘Spring.me / Twoo’ like before. The subject was “We haven’t seen you for a while on Twoo!”. I thought to myself “That does it. I don’t know what Twoo is, I haven’t signed up for it, and I certainly haven’t logged into it”.
Like me, he eventually reached the point where he wanted to know how Twoo came to sign him up to a dating site without his permission.
He discovered that his spring.me account was no more, logging into the service simply redirected him to the Twoo dating site. Like me, Gareth is not single and so has no need for an online dating profile, so he chose to delete his account. Yes, apparently you can delete your Twoo account.
I got an email from Twoo, saying “We’ve deleted your account just like you asked”. In the email was a large ‘Reactivate
your account’ button. If they’ve deleted the account, how can they reactivate it unless I register again (even though I never initially registered)?
Ah, the trick delete. Even though Twoo uses the word “delete”, apparently all they actually do is “deactivate”. Granted, this is a common practice, but if you’re only going to deactivate a user’s account, don’t say you’re deleting it, it’s not the same thing.
So our first question was, is this ethical? I think under pretty much any interpretation, the answer would be no. Twoo’s practice of taking users of a Q&A site and silently migrating their details into online dating profiles on an entirely different service are 100% unethical.
The next question was, is it legal? Here, I’m not so sure, here at Geek Scot, we’re not legal professionals so we’ve had to ask around. Data Protection laws do state that transfer of data should be fair and lawful, but is it fair for users to expect their accounts on a Q&A site would suddenly become dating profiles? The Data Protection Act does state the following however:
Personal data shall be obtained only for one or more specified and lawful purposes, and shall not be further processed in any manner incompatible with that purpose or those purposes.
Given that the personal data for Formspring and spring.me were gathered for the specified purpose of a Q&A site, we’d certainly interpret this as stating that processing those details as dating profiles on Twoo does seem like a breach of law. Again, we’re not experts, which is why I’ve chosen to pass this article on to the Information Commisioner’s Office for further investigation.
For the time being though, Twoo continues to move forward with its dating website, under the tag line “The fastest growing place to meet new people.” Given that their growth is fed by entire userbases being merged into their own without permission, we’re not surprised.