Algorithms of love: Datamatch brings dates to Mac

Photo+by+Karsten+Beling+22

Photo by Karsten Beling ’22

Lucy Diaz, Associate Features Editor

Valentine’s Day. Singles awareness day. Discount chocolate day. The day of Feb. 14th may go by many names, but they all revolve around one theme: love. 

The origins of Valentine’s Day come from an ancient Roman festival for fertility called Lupercalia. Dedicated to Faunus, the Roman God of agriculture and the harvest, this festival traditionally occurred on Feb. 15th. 

The festival later transitioned into what we now know as St. Valentine’s Day, after Roman Emperor Claudius II executed two men named Valentine on Feb. 14th of different years. The martyrdom of these men was honored by the Catholic Church with a celebration each year on the anniversary of their death.

Today, Valentine’s Day has become symbolized by flowers, chocolate, romantic dinners and those weird little lollipop cards kids buy at the grocery store and address to all their  4th grade classmates. Valentine’s Day has become a holiday for big business, and of course, why should it be any different at Mac? 

This Valentine’s Day marked the debut of a new service to help out all the Mac students who haven’t been feeling the love in the air recently. Perhaps the wind chill is getting to them. Either way, when Datamatch came on the scene in late January, it stirred up some strong feelings within the student body. 

Quang Nguyen ’25 is the representative for Datamatch at Macalester. He had been following the Harvard-student founded company even before he had become a Macalester student. When Datamatch posted on Instagram trying to find new schools to partner with, Nguyen jumped at the chance. 

I saw the Instagram post and I decided to put MCSG and Program Board’s names, because you can nominate different student orgs to organize Datamatch,” Nguyen said. “No one responded so I decided to bring Datamatch to the school by myself.” 

Unlike other dating apps, Datamatch is exclusive to participating colleges. A majority of the schools are located on the east coast and Macalester’s long time rival, Carleton College, is the only other school in Minnesota doing Datamatch this year. However, the company is actively adding more schools to their database. 

“Hopefully there are more schools in the area that will join Datamatch and the pool for matchmaking will be bigger,” Nguyen said. 

Datamatch also claims to differ from other matchmaking services because of their unique questions. Each school has a specialized survey for participants to take, and the questions are meant to determine the person’s sense of humor, rather than their personality.

“One of the main things is that our questions are kind of ridiculous,” Nguyen said. “We want to bring a chill and funny, relaxing Valentine’s experience to everyone.”

Furthermore, Datamatch has debuted three new features this year, which are “crush roulette”, “search match” and “match preferences/blocklist”. The first two allow Datamatch users to anonymously invite their friends and crushes to Datamatch via email, which are readily available at schools like Mac, where school emails are keyed into a network that allows you access to other students’ emails and even G-Cals. 

“I think that colleges are one of the best places in the world to make friends and form relationships with people,” Nguyen said. 

Datamatch participants received a 15% off coupon to nearby boba shop Simplicitea, which is valid until the end of the month. For those lucky enough to be able to locate their top two matches, submission of a selfie with your match resulted in entry into a raffle to win $20 gift cards to Simplicitea as well. The deadline for submission was Feb. 16th, just two days after matches were announced. 

These gift cards, which are funded by Program Board (PB), are a significant contributing factor to the almost 40% of Macalester students that registered for Datamatch, with some students even vowing to “hunt down their matches” for the chance to win one. 

PB member Carter Rutherford ’23 explained that when Datamatch reached out to PB in December 2021, they had already decided to work with Simplicitea and were looking for assistance in partnering with local businesses, as well as support with publicity. 

“Generally the easiest way for us to [support something] like that is to provide gift cards to a variety of local businesses, rather than having a partnership with a specific business,” Rutherford said. 

The owner of Simplicitea, TT, has partnered with Macalester’s Vietnamese cultural org before for a Lunar New Year event, which falls just a couple of weeks before Valentine’s Day. She has been doing business in Macalester-Groveland for over two decades now and said that she really felt the support from the community when the pandemic started and Macalester students were sent home. 

“In the past two years all the students went home and then they did all the classes online, so that’s why we don’t have much business from students, but we have the local support,” TT said. 

Simplicitea has also partnered with Macalester’s Vietnamese cultural org in the past to host events, and, according to TT, plans to do so again in the future. With Valentine’s Day and the Lunar New Year both falling in February, making the month a busy time for Simplicitea if they continue to sponsor both events.

“I hadn’t thought about getting any more advertising yet, but it’s just a thing that has a good idea,” TT said. “Especially in this pandemic time, it’s a very stressful time right now so we want to have something that is more fun for young people.

Though this is their first year working with Datamatch, PB has done matchmaking for Macalester students before. 2022 marks the third annual Macalester matchmaking opportunity, with last year’s matchmaking service being fully hosted by PB and occurring entirely over Zoom. 

“Now that this is the third year we’re doing something like this, it would fall under a tradition,” Rutherford said. “The hope is that Program Board will continue doing the matchmaking in the future.”

According to Rutherford, the matchmaking service is one of PB’s most popular events. The turnout for last year’s Zoom only matchmaking was around 250 students, and this number has more than doubled in 2022, maxing out at roughly 800. 

The funding from this event comes from PB’s traditions budget, which is responsible for other beloved Macalester events, such as Winter Ball, and supporting activities for Founder’s Day. Based on the success with the matchmaking event so far, PB is planning to make the service an annual event, with or without Datamatch. 

“We’re trying to make this a tradition,” PB member Amanda Wong* ’23 said. “That’s something that PB would take over, because right now there’s an outside PB aspect and we had to be contacted. In the future we hope to take control of it.”

Though Datamatch is marketed as lighthearted fun, something more sinister may lurk below the surface. According to their privacy policy, the company reported a security breach in 2020, where raw data, including private information such as email, home state and gender preferences, were made available to the public. Furthermore, GitHub, a code hosting platform, was found to have three repositories of Datamatch information from the 2019 and 2020 users, including names, years, colleges, dorms and survey answers. 

Datamatch claims to have resolved the issue and wiped the available information from GitHub.  They have also implemented new security measures as a result of the breach that allow users to limit the amount of information displayed on their profiles. 

The  Datamatch website also contains some interesting information, such as the fact that Datamatch is void in what the site dubs “wacko states like Ohio and Michigan,” though they do not go into further detail about why. The company also states that “our current team policy, and the one we hope all Datamatch users will abide by is, ‘BE A GOOD PERSON’”. 

Still, Datamatch appears to have permeated through all aspects of the Macalester community. Macalester President Suzanne Rivera tweeted on Valentine’s Day, “Although I declined numerous IG invitations to participate in Mac Datamatch, I wish all members of our community (including my sweetheart, whom I adore) a very happy Valentine’s Day!” 

*Amanda Wong is the Web Editor for The Mac Weekly.