‘Tinder for friends’ uses AI to block flirty messages

Making new friends as an adult is hard, and it’s easy to find yourself relying on old college pals and work colleagues to bolster your social life, even if the former live on the other side of the country and the latter are, well, your work colleagues.

Many an app has tried and largely failed to address this problem, but as any woman who’s been brave enough to seek friends — genuine platonic friends — online will know, it’s not long before your inbox is inundated with dire pickup lines, weak attempts at ‘cheeky banter’ and, of course, the ubiquitous dick pic. Enter Patook. Launching globally on July 7 on iPhone and Android, the app claims to make finding new friends easier and less traumatic thanks to an algorithm which detects and blocks flirty language.

Using an AI method known as natural language processing, the ‘flirt detector’ has been trained on millions of creepy messages and pick-up lines circulating the internet, including a huge number submitted to Reddit (of course). It also responds to the behavioral activity of the user: who they message, how often, whether it’s a copy/paste job or if they’ve bothered to think of something original, and so on.

All of this combines into what Patook’s founders unsettlingly call a ‘magic sauce’, which determines whether a message is sent or not. “What kind of music do you like?” is fine. “Would you like to sit on my face?” is not. Break the rules, and you’re banned. In fact, upon the app’s beta release in 2016, five percent of users were banned before their first message was even delivered.

According to Patook CEO Antoine El Daher: “Initial feedback to the app has been extraordinary. People seeking friends and not romantic relationships have been left out in the cold until now. We anticipate rapid growth among all genders, and so far have seen approximately 40% women, 40% men, and 20% joining as couples.”

Romantic advances aside, Patook (which means ‘little hug’ in Armenian) operates in much the same way as a dating app. There’s an extensive set of privacy controls, and users build a profile and search for friends based on the usual criteria: location, interests, age range. The app also uses a points system to specifically identify and rate the value of the criteria they want in a friend. So if you’re into hiking, you might give five points to people who list ‘the great outdoors’ as an interest, or if you’re into Napalm Death, you might give points to other metalheads. Whatever floats your boat, as long as you keep it clean.

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Google stores ‘transient’ Allo messages until you delete them

Back when Google first announced its brand-new chat app Allo, the company told The Verge it would only store messages “transiently,” not indefinitely. But since May, when the app was first announced at Google I/O, things have changed a bit in that regard. A Google spokesperson confirmed that messages are now stored on Google’s end as long as that chat history is available on your personal device. But once you choose to delete the history, it’s also deleted on Google’s end — so users do have control over just how long their messages persist for.

Google told me that it made this change after the company pushed the app out to wide testing around the company; it found that the experience was better when it saved chat history for longer. That history helps Google with things like the app’s auto-reply features, which work better the more data is available for Google to analyze.

For the end user, this means that your messages are stored on Google’s servers, in the same fashion that Hangouts messages and emails from your Gmail account are. The messages are still encrypted between your phone and Google’s servers, and they’re stored using encryption that Google can open up so it’s accessible to their machine learning processes.

If both you and the other participant in your conversation choose to delete a conversation, though, the messages will be removed from Google’s servers. And if you want extra privacy, you can use Allo’s incognito mode, though you won’t get the benefit of the Google Assistant that sets the app apart from other options. Deleting the app itself from my iPhone also deleted all the content of the conversations I was having — but again, if my friends didn’t delete those chats, they’re still out there on Google’s servers.

For most users, this probably won’t be a deal-breaker — it’s not really any different than how most of Google’s many other communication products behave. But there’s also no doubt that there’s been increased attention given to the privacy and security of your online communications. If that’s a concern to you, Allo might not be the best option for you.

Via: The Verge

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