Students Sell Friendship on Creepy Website

Last fall, in a University of Connecticut dorm room students Scott Rosenbaum and Jose Cabanero created what is becoming one of the fastest-growing and strangest social networking websites to date:

Rosenbaum came to Cabanero with the idea and asked for help building the website. Cabanero was skeptical, but agreed. “This might actually be worth something,” he said. Since its November 2009 debut, over 283,000 platonic “friends” and 2,500 renters joined the website.

In a time where Craiglist’s “looking for friends” section, the answer to friend woes, is overrun with creepy ads from the now-gone “adult services” section, Rent a Friend might be the replacement. The website allows users to enter their zip code and view profiles of “friends” in their area. Profiles include pictures, age, location, a physical description, and a bio, in addition to a list of activities the friend can do. Personal contact information is only available to paid members.

“Friends” like Connecticut College student Kimmie Braun put themselves for rent to make extra cash. Braun charges renters $20 an hour in addition to the $24.95 monthly membership fee.

“Some people think it’s an escort service,” Cabanero said. “Some think it’s a prostitution ring. It’s neither.” Rent a Friend’s intentions are purely platonic — anything sexual is prohibited, but that doesn’t stop it from happening.

Braun has been rented for phone advice twice since she joined in June. “One guy ‘wasn’t bi or gay’ but wanted advice on how to deal with his love for giant penis gay porn,” she said. The other was looking for someone to have phone sex with, which she declined.

The founders are currently working on a privacy policy and set of rules to filter out the users who want to use it as an escort service, Cabanero said.

The website is aimed at those who are visiting or moving to a new area, want more friends, or need a companion for an event. Braun sees it as a way for lonely people to find someone in a time of need.

Others see it differently. One renter hired someone to do work for him, Cabanero said, while others hire less attractive people to take them out to a club as a wingman.

“I’m not 100 percent sure why people do it,” Cabanero admitted.

Braun’s profile is still online — despite her past mishaps, she sees no sexual pressure in being rented. “Even if I didn’t click with the person, they’re paying me to be friendly,” she said.

This article appeared in the October 25, 2010 issue of The New School Free Press.

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