Tinder is a social networking service (Hinton & Hjorth, 2013), whose innovations in design and business model fundamentally changed the online dating industry and transformed how people connect, build and foster social relationships (Orosz, Tóth-Király, Böthe & Melher, 2016).
The first section of this web essay will explain how Tinder works, while also providing a brief history of its development. The second section will then provide an assessment of the socio-technological groups that underpin Tinder’s operations. The third section will critically examine the innovations that made Tinder an agent of internetworked change. The final section will discuss how Tinder has transformed dating practices and prompted conversation about regulation and digital privacy.
How does Tinder work?
Tinder has a simple design that utilises search technology to make meeting new people easier and more efficient (Havalais, 2008).
Tinder requires users to construct a dating profile to access its match making services (Hinton & Hjorth, 2013). Tinder privileges images on dating profiles almost like they are “avatar” cards (Stoian, 2019, p.55), as can be illustrated below.
Dating profiles can only be shown to users that they share a connection with (Hinton & Hjorth, 2013), that being their location, as well as age and gender preferences (Stoian, 2019).
Tinder’s swiping mechanism allows users to view and interact with those connections (Hinton & Hjorth, 2013). In swiping right, a user can demonstrate their interest in a person’s dating profile (Abolfathi & Santamaria, 2020), as demonstrated in this image.
Tinder provides a private messaging service for users to communicate with each other (Hinton & Hjorth, 2013). However, this can only be accessed when you receive a match (mutual right swipes) (Tinder, 2020).
For a step-by-step guide on how to use Tinder, check out this explainer video:
The History of Tinder
The launch of the iPhone in 2007 caused desktop-based online dating websites to shift to app form (Abolfathi & Santamaria, 2020). Five years later in 2012 Tinder was born, it was one of the first online dating services specifically designed for smartphones (Orosz et al., 2020).
Tinder was the brainchild of University of Southern California graduates Sean Rad and Justin Mateen in a start-up incubator called “Hatch Labs” owned by internet conglomerate InterActive Corp (IAC) (Iqbal, 2020).
Tinder was first released across college campuses and became an instant success, with the app processing “350 million swipes per day by the end of 2013” (Iqbal, 2020).
Tinder has since introduced three premium subscription models, Tinder Plus in 2015, Tinder Gold in 2017 and Tinder Platinum in 2020 (Iqbal, 2020).
In 2017 IAC merged Tinder into Match Group (Iqbal, 2020).
As of 2020 Tinder is the most popular dating app worldwide, hosting more than “50 million active profiles, 1.6 billion swiper per day and 20 billion matches to date” (Iqbal, 2020).
The Innovations of Tinder
Tinder is a prime example of a “disruptive technology,” a term used to describe how an innovation that helps create a new market, can go on to transform existing markets (Christensen, Raynor & McDonald, 2017, p.24).
Tinder was able to disrupt the traditional online dating market by creating a “new-market foothold” (Christensen et al., 2017, p.24). Tinder targeted their match making services to young adults, a market segment that did not online date and was largely ignored by the online dating industry (Abolfathi & Santamaria, 2020).
Tinder made their product attractive to this younger demographic by gamifying their interface, making “tindering addictive,” (Orosz et al., 2016, p.519). In making the act of browsing profiles entertaining, users were incentivised to use Tinder over traditional online dating models (Lutz & Ranzini, 2017)
Additionally, Tinder reduced the “consumption barriers” to online dating by making their service free and reducing the number of steps in creating an online dating profile (Abolfathi & Santamaria, 2020).
Moreover, Tinder’s use of Global Positioning System (GPS) technology was key to their success, as it made meeting up with matches easier and more convenient (Ali & Wibowo, 2011).
Tinder’s business model was also innovative (Christensen et al., 2017). Traditional online dating websites and apps operated on a subscription plan model, requiring users to pay a set fee each month to use their match making services (Lin, 2018).
Tinder was the first dating app to use a “freemium” business model, offering users access to their match making service at no cost (Lin, 2018), in exchange for data which they “collect, aggregate and analyse,” and then sell for revenue to data brokers and advertisers (Martin, 2019, p. 95).
Tinder is also able to generate revenue through advertising and paid upgrades (Lin, 2018). Thus, making its business model financially very lucrative compared to subscription-based models (Lin, 2018).
Tinder’s Social Ecology
Tinder exists in a complex system of socio-technological interdependence. Using Looi’s (2001) “ecology metaphor” this section of the web essay will investigate the different groups that effect how Tinder operates.
Who owns Tinder?
Tinder is owned by Match Group, a large technology company that operates a “25% share of the online dating market” (Lin, 2018).
Match Group is a “near monopoly” of the online dating industry operating 45 other online dating products including some of Tinder’s direct competitors (Lapowsky, 2014). Match group maintains that “60% of dates, relationships and marriages that originated from online dating began on their services” (Anderson, 2019).
Tinder is Match Group’s biggest revenue generator accounting for half of the companies’ earnings last year, as illustrated in this graph below (Iqbal, 2020).
Tinder has a partnership with Facebook, Instagram and Spotify (Lin, 2020).
Users can verify their identity on Tinder through Facebook (Albury, Burgess, Light, Race and Wilken, 2017). Users can also connect their Instagram and Spotify accounts on their dating profiles for potential matches to view (Lin, 2020).
Tinder’s direct competitors are other smartphone-based dating apps that use GPS rather than compatibility technology to match users (Lin, 2020).
This makes Bumble, Hinge (also owned by Match Group) and Happn, some of Tinder’s biggest competitors, as can be seen in the following infographic (Iqbal, 2020).
Like many digital intermediaries, Tinder is responsible for moderating interactions that occur on its service in accordance with their community guidelines (Gillespie, 2018). Tinder (2020) can terminate accounts if users do not abide by these policies both online and offline.
Tinder (2020) uses both Artificial Intelligence (AI) assisted moderation and human moderators to detect, prevent and remove instances of abuse. Tinder (2020) also relies on the self-reporting of users who experience any violations of their community guidelines.
Tinder’s (2020) community guidelines and policies are informed by Match Group Advisory Council (MGAC), a group of experts in sexual harassment, assault and other relevant issues.
According to a study conducted by Sumter, Vandenbosch and Liternberg (2017) there are six underlying motivations for using Tinder including for love, sex, social interaction and validation, supporting gratification theory.
In terms of demographics
- Tinder users are predominately under the age of 25 (Iqbal, 2020).
- There are more male than female users (Iqbal, 2020).
- It is used across 190 different countries (Iqbal, 2020).
See the graphs below for a full breakdown of these trends:
Tinder’s Ecosystem Map
The diagram below provides a visual representation of Tinder’s social ecology.
Tinder has transformed online dating culture
Tinder ignited a new era of dating where privately owned digital intermediaries mediate the way people meet, connect and interact (Gillespie, 2018).
Tinder made online dating accessible to the ordinary internet and reduced the stigma attached to meeting someone online (Lutz & Ranzini, 2017).
Research from the Pew Research Centre note an uptake in the number of people online dating, with “30% of adults in the U.S. found to have used an online dating app,” as shown in the graph (Anderson, Vogels & Turner, 2020).
Research from the Pew Research Centre also demonstrated increasingly positive attitudes towards online dating, with “62% of people believing that relationships where people met on a dating app were just as successful as those that met in person” (Anderson, Vogels & Turner, 2020).
In 2020 online dating and Tinder has become more popular than ever with “subscriptions up by 20%” due to the restrictions imposed on dating by COVID19 (Dias, 2020).
Tinder’s design, practices and policies have the potential to harm users
As Tinder has grown in popularity, so have the questions regarding user safety (Gillett, 2018).
A recent investigation conducted by Four Corners and triple j Hack revealed the systemic failure of Tinder to protect its users (Dias, 2020).
Tinder frequently fails to respond and act on reports of sexual offences (Dias, 2020). If a response was provided it was automated and did not provide any information regarding the process or outcome of the report, as illustrated in the screenshots below (Dias, 2020).
Tinder’s unmatch feature has also been abused by perpetrators as it allows them to block victims and delete an entire communication history (Dias, 2020).
To hear the personal stories of how Tinder’s business model enables perpetrators and fails to protect users check out this Four Corners Episode.
Tinder’s parent company Match Group has also been shown to engage in deceptive practices towards users and was consequently sued by the Federal Trade Commission last year (Dias, 2020).
These examples illuminate a flaw in Tinder’s regulatory design (Gillett, 2018). Tinder must be held accountable for the harms their policies and systems induce and must make changes to protect users. (Gillett, 2018).
Tinder’s business model exploits users, and challenges their privacy
Tinder’s business model relies on the aggregation and selling of user data (Albury et al., 2017).
Tinder is able to collect rich data profiles of their users from their interactions with the app, the GPS tracking tool and their cross-platform partnerships (Albury et al., 2017).
This has given rise to increasing concerns about “institutional privacy,” which refers to how corporate actors deal with their personal data (Lutz & Ranzini, 2017, p.3). Lutz and Ranzini (2017) found that Tinder users are overwhelmingly more concerned about how Tinder uses and stores their data than about their social privacy.
To decrease the privacy concerns of users Tinder must guarantee that their data is safely stored, and they must be transparent about how they use data, who they exchange it with and for what purposes (Lutz & Ranzini, 2017).
Tinder is an excellent example of an internet transformation. Tinder’s innovative design and business model pushed the online dating industry into a new era. It has transformed how people meet, interact and foster social relationships. It has also ignited new challenges in regard to regulation and data privacy. Ultimately, Tinder revolutionised online dating culture – to what we know it as now.
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