Stranger Danger? The Emergence and Dominance of Dating Application, Tinder

Online dating image. All Rights Reserved. Source: https://time.com/tag/online-dating/
Feature Image: Online Dating. Time Magazine. All Rights Reserved. Source: https://time.com/tag/online-dating/https://time.com/tag/online-dating/https://time.com/tag/online-dating/

Location-based, mobile services such as Tinder and Uber Eats have normalised interactions with strangers as an essential and unavoidable component of everyday life. However, the real ‘stranger danger’ lies with more indiscernible entities such as ‘third parties’ and the collectors of our personal data. Collectively, online platforms have changed the way users perceive their privacy. The increased casualty of our offline interactions with strangers has reinforced our behaviours online (Lutz & Ranzini, 2017). Tinder’s business model is largely reliant on our tendency to not only share more of ourselves online, but the promotion of a more ‘authentic’ version of ourselves to users’ benefit to create more ‘meaningful connections,’ (John, 2018). This digital essay will explore the rise of online dating platforms and how Tinder has graduated to dominating the industry as a whole.

Image: Tinder’s Website Homepage, Tinder, All Rights Reserved.

History

Tinder is an online dating and ‘geosocial’ application founded in 2012 by Sean Rad (Fetters, 2018, December 21). While platforms for the purpose of forming relationships already existed for LGBTQ+ communities such as Grindr and Scruff, Tinder brought online dating into the mainstream (Fetters, 2018, December 21). Its user interface was revolutionary with the inclusion of its ‘swipe-right’ for yes, ‘swipe-left’ for no feature that has since becomes its trademark (David & Cambre, 2016).

The roots of online dating exist within mail-order brides and community-based match making services that rose to prominence in the nineteenth century (Gunter, 2013). However, the invention of the Internet in the final quarter of the twentieth century broadened the impact of dating services (Gunter, 2013). As technology advanced, populations became more mobile and community centres decentralised which meant finding partners for dates become more difficult (Gunter, 2013). However, the origins of dating services were bound with embarrassment and stigma (Chamorro-Premuzic, 2014, January 17). This was reduced with the diffusion of the Internet as dating could be practiced from the comforts of home and the opt-in nature of dating sites avoided embarrassment. That being said, online dating services were not fully socially accepted until their introduction as phone applications. When Tinder was founded, it was only available for iPhone users then expanded into Android, where it began to accumulate users (Fetters, 2018, December 21).

Ownership and Business Model

Tinder is owned by InterActive Corporation (IAC), but it is officially listed under the subsidiary name, Match Group (Leveque, 2020, September 3). The company’s holdings consist of over 45 dating services with the most notable being Tinder and Hinge for mobile, and Match.com and OkCupid.com as its central web-based platforms (Gilbert, 2019). Match Group holds the largest market share for online dating services with 66.4% above the next highest, E Harmony with 10.8% which is largely attributable to its role in online dating’s diffusion (Gilbert, 2019). Match Group’s holdings can be broken into their web and mobile based offerings with Tinder being their largest mobile platform (Leveque, 2020, September 3). Match Group has leveraged its diverse portfolio catering to the specific needs and dating preferences of consumers to effectively monopolise the online dating industry (Leveque, 2020, September 3; see also Gilbert, 2019).

Tinder’s business model differs from predeceasing online dating services as it reinvented matchmaking into a ‘market’ for on-demand partners by removing the formalities (Fetters & Tiffany, 2020, February 26). While users can exercise more control over their self-presentation in Tinder’s format, profiles are relatively basic and image-based (Lutz & Ranzini, 2017). As Lutz and Ranzini (2017) state the spontaneity and availability of suitors on the platform meant that users need to, “decide quickly on their own self-presentation as well as whether they like someone else’s,” (p.2).

Tinder operates commercially using a ‘freemium’ business model where users can access the basic affordances of the platform with the option to upgrade their subscriptions to access for features to improve the likelihood of matches (Gilbert, 2019; see Leveque, 2020, September 3). Many of the affordances included in the paid service have been adapted from perceived shortfalls in the business model. For example, Tinder recognised that many users would make mistakes as they were swiping quickly through profiles, missing an appealing match (David & Cambre, 2016). Users, however, can now pay for the ability to ‘rewind’ and go back to their missed match. Tinder’s business model has continued to adapt even due to disruptive forces such as COVID-19 by making the ‘passport’ feature free for all users allowing users to explore areas around the globe without being restricted by their location. By accounting for observable barriers to the length of time spent on the app, Tinder has solidified its position as market leader and the profitability of the application.

Image: Tinder’s Rewind Feature, The Sun, All Rights Reserved. Source: https://www.thesun.co.uk/fabulous/2136079/tinder-guide-dating-apps-safe-swipe/

Tinder’s Ecology

Tinder is a market figurehead within the online dating and wider ‘sharing’ industry (John, 2018). As a result, its interactions with other information and communication technologies has only maintained and enhanced its position within the industry. Tinder’s profits from its position to further to commodify and appropriate our practices of social interaction in its most intimate state (Martin & Dwyer, 2019).

Competitors

The competitive landscape of online dating is interesting for two reasons. Firstly, even though a platform may compete in terms of its market share, different applications and sites tend to cater to specific dating preferences or interests which cannot be provided for by another platform. Secondly, Tinder’s largest competitors as an individual platform are part of Match Group. Withstanding, Bumble is Tinder’s largest competitor, and the two platforms have a long, entangled history. In 2018, Match Group offered to purchase Bumble for $450 million which would have greatly increased its market share, and its market power respectively (Gilbert, 2019). The acquisition would mean Match Group would have controlled five out of six of the most popular dating apps, all market leaders (Gilbert, 2019).

Suppliers

Tinder relies heavily on Facebook and Instagram for the provision of their software systems. Marcus (2016 as cited in Lutz & Ranzini, 2017) defines this as a “convergenceability,” where the affordances from a platform are integrated into the interface of another, adding extra ‘abilities’ for its users (p.2). From the outset of its foundation, Tinder has required users to create their accounts using a Facebook login. In the case of Tinder, less effort is required in making the profiles which are already auto filled, and therefore in the construction of their self-presentation by having to login through Facebook (Marcus, 2016 as cited in Lutz & Ranzini, 2017). Instagram performs a similar role due to Tinder’s reliance on visual self-presentation as users can opt to show posts from Instagram on their profile (Lutz & Ranzini, 2017).

Partners

As listed on their website, Tinder’s official, longstanding partners are Spotify and Hey! Vina. Its partnership with Spotify has performed similarly to Facebook and Instagram in increasing “convergenceability,” (Marcus, 2016 as cited in Lutz & Ranzini, 2017). However, Tinder is less reliant on Spotify than on Facebook and Instagram as its inclusion only services as an extra feature on a users’ profile. Tinder’s partnership with Hey! Vina is conducive of its competition with Bumble. It mirrors Bumble Bff as a platform targeted towards friendships for women– ‘a Tinder for (girl) friends.’

Regulators

Tinder as a platform has largely avoided dealing with governments and other official organisations with the exception of the European Union’s General Data protection regulation. The application is largely reliant on the self-regulation of its users with regards to their social privacy. However, there has not been extensive research into the effects of regulatory bodies on the institutional privacy of Tinder’s users. As with social privacy, the Terms and Conditions act as the major regulation for the application giving users the ability to opt out when they create an account (Lutz & Ranzini, 2017).

Below is a diagram of Tinder’s internet ecology:

Transformative Effects

The Implications of Location Services

Tinder’s business model has capitalised locative and mobile functionality of its interface. The disclosure of location by users of online dating services has been viewed predominantly in academic literature as a significant regulatory issue (Albury et al., 2017). However, it could be argued that users’ laxed attitude towards institutional privacy derive from how location-based services have altered our perceptions around privacy (Lutz & Ranzini, 2017). As we began disclosing our location to strangers for dates, other platforms and industries followed suit normalising not only interactions with strangers but the disclosure of information with them for instant, personal gratification.

As Albury (2017) sets out, “For the companies involved, location disclosure enabled by their app is significant because the accumulation of geocoded information generates an information rich data pool,” (p.4). The extent and quality of information being shared with Tinder is concealed by the simplistic nature of its interface (Albury, 2017). The data collection points across the application are not reduced solely to public profiles including users’ conversations, the qualities of your matches and access to data from Facebook, Instagram and Spotify (Duportail, 2017, September 26). As users’ ‘get to know’ potential partners, corporations are simultaneously collecting that information to ‘get to know’ their users (Duportail, 2017, September 26). In an expose for The Guardian, journalist Judith Duportail was given access to 800 pages of information about her including specific details about her dating and sexual preferences, hobbies, music taste, where she liked to eat and everyday routine (Duportail, 2017, September 26). Authenticity and ‘meaningful connections’ are core values of the platform yet, these only underpin Tinder’s commercial exploitation of its users (Tinder, 2020). Tinder’s privacy policy discloses, “We may also share information with partners who distribute and assist us in advertising our services,” (Tinder, 2020).

The Culture of Dating

Undeniably, Tinder’s interface has been influential in changing the way we meet people and ‘share’ online. More interesting, however, are its effects on the nature of our relationships and behaviour offline. This is supported by de Souza e Silva and Frith (2012, as cited in David & Cambre, 2016) who claim, “Interfaces are symbolic systems that filter information and actively reshape communication relationships, and also reshape the space in which social interaction takes place,” (p.8). Tinder is said to be largely responsible for ‘hook-up culture,’ as Tinder has flattened our judgements of others to be basic and superficial to mirror the simplicity of the app’s interface based solely around images and a 500-character bio (David & Cambre, 2016). In an article called ‘Swipe and Burn’ (David & Cambre, 2016) about outbreaks of STDs and the use of dating applications, doctor were astounded how the act of ‘swiping,’ could have such an impact on the offline behaviour of participants astounded at the “the idea that this technology makes you want to leave your common sense at the bedroom door,” (p.7). Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic describes the ‘Tinder effect,’ where the gamification has made the use of dating applications more appealing than dating itself. He states, “Tinder is just the latest example for the sexualisation of urban gadgets: it is nomophobia, Facebook-porn and Candy Crush Saga all in one.”

Final Thoughts

Overall, the impact of dating applications as transformational technology has largely been downplayed in academic discourse. It should be warned that due to the nature of the app, its power is often underestimated, and we are not fully aware to the potential risks it could pose to the state of the digital landscape and its users.

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References

Albury, K., Burgess, J., Light, B., Race, K., & Wilken, R. (2017). Data cultures of dating and hook-up apps: Emerging issues for critical science research. Big Data and Society, 4(2).

Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2014, January 17). The Tinder effect: Psychology of dating in the technosexual era. The Guardian.  https://www.theguardian.com/media-network/media-network-blog/2014/jan/17/tinder-dating-psychology-technosexual

David, G & Cambre, C. (2016). Screened Intimacies: Tinder and the Swipe Logic. Social Media and Society, 2(2). https://doi.org/10.1177/2056305116641976

Duportail, J. (2017). I asked Tinder for my data. It sent me 800 pages of ny deepest, darkest secrets. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/sep/26/tinder-personal-data-dating-app-messages-hacked-sold

Fetters, A. (2018, December 21). The Five Years that Changed Dating. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2018/12/tinder-changed-dating/578698/

Fetters, A & Tiffany, K. (2020, February 26). The ‘Dating Market’ is Getting Worse. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2020/02/modern-dating-odds-economy-apps-tinder-math/606982/

Gunter, W. (2013). The Study of Online Relationships and Dating. In Oxford Handbook of Internet Studies. Oxford University Press.

Gilbert, E. (2019). Antitrust and commitment issues: the monopolisation of the dating app industry. New York University Law Review 94(4). https://www.nyulawreview.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/NYULAWREVIEW-94-4-Gilbert.pdf

John, N. A. (2018). Sharing Economies. In The Age of Sharing. Polity.

Leveque, L. (2020, September 3). Everything you always wanted to know about the economics of dating sites (but were afraid to ask). The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/everything-you-always-wanted-to-know-about-the-economics-of-dating-sites-but-were-afraid-to-ask-141239

Lutz, C & Ranzini, G. (2017). Where Dating Meets Data: Investigating Social and Institutional Privacy Concerns on Tinder. Social Media and Society, 3(1). https://doi.org/10.1177/2056305117697735

Martin, F & Dwyer, T. (2019). The Business of News Sharing. In Sharing News Online. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan.

Tinder. (2020). Privacy Policy. https://policies.tinder.com/privacy/intl/en