A look on tinder, data and social transformation

Tinder is a dating app with the goal of matching users based on geographic location. With an interface that allows users to swipe right to “like” another user, or “left” to continue the search – it has gained worldwide success and is the most popular dating app on the market. When two people swipe right on one another, there is a match that will enable a further dialogue within the app.

Some facts:

  • There is 57 million Tinder users around the world
  • 5.9 million subscribers pay for a premium Tinder Plus and Tinder Gold
  • Tinder is used in 190 countries, and is available in 40 languages
  • Tinder was processing one billion swipes per day by late 2014, that has now risen to 1.6 billion
  • Tinder users go on one million dates per week
  • Over 20 billion matches made since Tinder launched

One unique component that distinguishes Tinder from other online digital dating services is the fact that their solution takes away the element of unwanted attention, only enabling conversations between people who are equally keen for further engagement. The platform was also intended to enable connections among people who would not usually meet – broadening the range of possibilities in the chase for love.(BusinessofApps 2020) 

Online dating – a historical background
Throughout history humans have with the help of technology strived to find more efficient ways to find the ultimate match and the partner of a lifetime. 

Personal ads

  • Using technology for better connections goes back to the very first invention on having personal ads appear in a British agricultural journal in 1685. 
  • When the first newspaper for singles, The Matrimonial News, hit the market in 1810 the ad for dating started to become a business, with men paying $0.25 to place an ad (about $4.50 in today’s dollars), Women posted for free.
  • This system for personal ads got an upswing during World War 1 with soldiers looking to connect with women, when out in war. 
  • In the newspaper The Link, the section “lonely hearts” were suspected by authorities on having coded messages among homosexuals striving to make contact with one another, using the technology as a tool to stay in contact (Pov 2013). 

Data – connecting people of similar interests
When the use of data stepped into the matchmaking equation in 1940, the chase for love came to be more strategic. 

  • In 1940 the use of data came to be valuable in the service of finding “social equivalents” driven by a Neward-based company, who also charged people for the help in finding a suitable partner. With development and more efficient use of this matchmaking system, Harvard students created Operation Match which was used by more than a million of users in the 1960’s. 

“We’re not trying to take the love out of love. We’re just trying to make it more efficient.” — Jeff Tarr in 1966

  • The race for more effective dating came to blossom when this strategic evaluation and pairing of data came to be computational. In 1965 the computer dating service Tact was introduced to the world. 

Dating apps – businesslike crispness to falling in love..
Since then the industry of online dating has rapidly developed with a revenue that is projected to reach US$2,725m in 2020.  Dating apps just like majority of social media platforms, monotizes by user generated data, which raises relevant questions regarding integrity and data usage within their business model. Especially due to the sensitive nature of the data being circulated on the platform. 

Tinder’s business model
Tinder was launched in 2012 by Match, a company that owns other central players within the field such as OkCupid  and PlentyOfFish  with an overall theme in providing solutions for romantic connections to take place. Tinder has with its 57 million users around the world come to be one of the most valuable dating networking apps on the market.

Image source: BusinessOfApps

As seen above the buzz of online dating has come to take quite the upswing since 2015, which was also the year in which Tinder started to monetize with its premium version Tinder Plus. Revenue is gathered through this paid subscription, but also out of targeted advertisements in the format of user profiles one has to swipe through in order to continue, these are being presented to users in the non paid version (BusinessofApps 2020).

Tinder and data
In an article by journalist Judith Duportail she describes how she asked Tinder about the information the company had on her, and got 800 pages back in return. With a thorough collection of her activity, all of her swipes, likes and conversations that have taken place in the app – conversations that even she has come to forget. She describes reading through the 1,700 messages that she sent since 2013 when she downloaded the app. A reading, much like a trip down memory lane, with revisiting all her hopes, fears, sexual preferences and deepest secrets. Information she could not have dreamed of having a company to know about her. 

“Tinder knows much more about you when studying your behaviour on the app. It knows how often you connect and at which times; the percentage of white men, black men, Asian men you have matched; which kinds of people are interested in you; which words you use the most; how much time people spend on your picture before swiping you, and so on. Personal data is the fuel of the economy. Consumers’ data is being traded and transacted for the purpose of advertising.” – Alessandro Acquisti, professor of information technology at Carnegie Mellon University.

Even though being straightforward with Judith Duportail about her data, giving it to her when requested, the company has been investigated for potential GDPR compliance. In a report made by Norwegian Consumer Council these are some points raised on the matter: 

  • Data collected through Tinder is being shared with the Match groups other services such as OKCupid, PlentyOfFish, and some of their at least 45 dating-related businesses.
  • This means that a Tinder-user could have their personal data used by PlentyOfFish, even if they never used that service.
  • The privacy policies do not specify which third parties may be using personal data for further commercial and analytic purposes.
  • Both Tinder and OkCupid fail to fulfill the GDPR conditions for informed and explicit consent, as they bundle all purposes for data processing in their privacy policies. 

What do tinder say?
According to their own privacy policies, they are reserving the right to share data with other Match Group companies as stated above. And doing so, analyzing the user behaviour in order to improve their offerings and overall user experiences. They state that you may withdraw this consent at any time by contacting them. Even though given this information on their website, people automatically agree to these terms and conditions when creating a profile – a contract that most people forget they sign when using free services like tinder. 

How online dating is changing the way people connect

The friction free life
Sherry Turkle, professor in social science and technology at the Massachusetts institute of Technology is addressing this rapid development towards more convenient and effective ways in finding a partner. She describes the dating apps as tools for an evolving friction free life, and addresses how this friction free, as positive and soothing it might sound, have come to affect the way in which we relate to one another. Studies show that a friction free social environment declines our ability to form secure attachments (Turkle 2016). She points out the irony of having these new more efficient ways of finding love tied up in behaviour that actually discourages empathy and intimacy (Turkle 2016). 

Looking at the pre-digital and traditional courtship, a setting limited to spatial boundaries and the laws of time – daters patiently had to go through dinner dates (or other face to face interactions) to determine whether a spark emerges or not. Even though these occasions do not always end up in an intimate relationship, Turkle (2016) argues that there is value in having it as a practice to know what such intimacy requires. A practice that she states our digitized dating cohort lacks, where potential candidates for love instead is presented as easily replaceable characters, like in a game (Turkle 2016). A game with addictive outcomes among users, finding the app “evilly satisfying”. A design that is rooted in physiology, with the interface constructed to encourage swiping (Purvis 2017).

How we frame ourselves in the digital

“Texting and e-mail and posting let us present the self we want to be. This means we can edit. And if we wish to, we can delete. Or retouch: the voice, the flesh, the face, the body. Not too much, not too little — just right.” – Sherry Turkle 

With new platforms to connect, and new means to communicate interest and affection, technology offers new elements to the chase. Means that could create false promises, since the way in which we frame and present ourselves online does not always align with the person behind the screen. Dating apps, with an intimate context, enables a sense of being close to a person based on the words and imagery that are occurring on their constructed profile. There might be a lot of information given, but there is little wisdom on how the person acts in a real world setting. Turkle (2016) explains how the chase for love has changed. It has gone from how we are conducting conversations with one another, to the ways in which we can present ourselves in the hope of making a digital match/connection (Turkle 2016). 

These connections are something that Tim Jordan (2013) argues have fundamentally changed in our new digital environments. Internet technologies have enabled exploration of different identities, bodies and types of communication among people. Prior to the internet signatures, personals seals or even recognizable styles of handwriting could compensate for the physical body – all indicators that marks identity. Even the phone, with the voice of the person at the other end, gave direct input to whom in which one was talking too. Indicators that are different and more unstable in the digital (Lindgren 2017). 

When meeting people or talking over the phone, we recognizes one another by voice and body. When texting and emailing the same people, one recognizes them by the style and context of what they communicate digitally (Lindgren 2017). It’s important having these two presentations align with each other – especially when it comes to finding a connection that goes beyond the chatting room on Tinder. 

Beware of the user role in a moneymaking ecosystem
With these new digital tools in finding the perfect match, one should be aware of the contributing and affecting factors. Factors such as  user data being fed to a moneymaking ecosystem. Data used and exploited in ways many times unknown to the user. As much as these services might connect people in a way not before possible, Sherry Turkle (2016) do raise some important notes in how this frequent everyday swiping to left and right might affect us and the search for something meaningful and rooted in actual conversation, and not just connections at the surface.




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About Sofia Stromqvist 3 Articles
In times of social distancing and closed borders my long awaited semester in Sydney seemed far away.. As my concern grew, a digital solution came to my rescue. I'm Sofia, a swede taking this unit (among others) all the way from Stockholm. As a student in Digital Cultures I'm looking to nourish my interest in digitalization and its impact on society. Going full on digital for this unit and looking forward learning more about how internet transforms.