While you must scavenge all the dating apps out there for finding your one true love every Valentine’s Day, all of such platforms do the same thing with all of your data. This is because such dating sites’ and apps’ working models depend primarily on the information that you provide, to extrapolate certain parameters. These parameters can be potential matches that they can keep suggesting to you along with the ads they constantly flash on your device while you swipe along to craft your love story.
However, in an entire gamut of strangers’ profiles, it can get extremely hard for you to determine how exactly services such as OkCupid and Tinder select the suggested profiles that they do for you. At the end of the day, the algorithms powering such dating platforms are confidentially proprietary. Furthermore, the companies that own them have zero interest in doling out crucial information about how their workings, neither to the consumers nor to their competitors.
Despite this entire discreet information keeping, the little information that these platforms did volunteer to disclose (and information they were forced to disclose thanks to all data privacy laws such as the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation) lend us a fair idea about how they usually operate. As far as the question is concerned whether such algorithms are genuinely better than the actual world for finding true love, it is still up for a lot of conjecture. However, this has not deterred 30% of adults living in the US from trying one or the other of such platforms at least once in their lifetimes.
Are Dating Apps tricking you?
What are the categories of data that dating sites monitor, and who can access it? To know the answer to these questions and more, join the Open Sourced Reporting Network.
Vox’s year-long reporting assignment is Recode aka “Open Sourced” that aims to untangle the complexities of the data world, algorithms, personal privacy, as well as artificial intelligence.
Relying on Vox’s findings, any data that you explicitly share on a dating platform is immediately owned by them. Relying on the dating platform that you are using, the app can determine your gender, political affiliation, location data, sexual orientation, as well as religion. If you share photos and videos on the dating app, then the company gets access to those as well. That’s not all, these companies might be screening for all parameters with their own customized AI too; Bumble is one such platform that uses its custom tech for preemptively screening as well as blocking pictures that it might consider lewd.
However, dating platforms can also surreptitiously mine your data to monitor your social media activity across all your platforms if you connect them with your dating app profile. Judith Duportail, who is a renowned journalist, mentioned in the Guardian that Tinder- the famous dating app- maintained a minimum of 800 pages of information per person, that also included information taken from their Instagram and Facebook accounts (including the Facebook “Likes” as well as the number of friends they had on their pages) and their conversations’ text with each of her matches on the dating app. (You can also request to access some of your Tinder dating app information if you get too curious.)
So whichever service you decide to use, whether it is a website-based platform such as Match.com or an app-based platform such as Hinge, it will most likely have a lot of your data in-store. Besides, such platforms collaborate with several third-party services that also receive your private information to manipulate you.
How do Dating Apps use your private information?
For example, a website data tracker can detect URLs you often visit while you are active on some dating site and end up using that information for gathering analytics or targeting specific ads towards you, as you might already be well aware. Your data can also be freely shared with several third-party firms to study your activities and personal site usage for efficient ad-targeting.
Some of such dating-sharing processes can be quite questionable. For example, Grindr was compelled to admit way back in 2018, that two companies it had outsourced for studying its app usage were able to gain confidential information on its users’ HIV infectivity (that particular data-mining practice has since then been plugged). The Android versions of Tinder and OkCupid, both of which are collectively owned by the Match Group — that also owns Match.com — have allegedly shared its users’ private data, including information related to their political views, ethnicities, as well as a residential location, with another customer engagement service known as Braze, as per research conducted by consumer protection agency called the Norwegian Consumer Council. (In response to this very report, Match claimed that it does not condone using “personal and sensitive information for specific advertising goals whatsoever” and that it rely on third parties for “helping with specialized technical functioning along with help in their general deliverance of services.”)
Although they secretly and sometimes not so secretly share their users’ data with data mining third parties, dating companies often claim that they never sell users’ private data. But this does not mean they cannot have security breaches. Here is just a single alarming example: Jack’d, another popular dating app, had a bug in their chat feature which made it possible for non-members to see users’ images tagged “private” in full public access view, according to a recent report by Ars Technica. And as for Tinder, a security breach caused by simultaneous issues on both the Tinder’s login system as well as Facebook platform gave access to researchers for taking over complete control of accounts on the platform with merely their phone number (however this problem was raised in 2018 and was immediately fixed).
Here is another privacy consideration: There is a high chance that the communications that you might have yourself tagged private on such apps can get handed over to the law enforcement or government. Like many other tech platforms available out there, such sites’ privacy policies state that they might be compelled to hand over your data while facing some legal request such as a court order.
Some more alarming facts about dating apps
If you think your favorite dating app is safe and private, then you need to think again.
How do the data apps’ algorithms use your data for suggesting matches?
While we do not know exactly how all the different algorithms work, a few common concepts run in parallel among all. It’s highly likely that the majority of dating apps in widespread use out there utilize your private information that you dole out to them for influencing their match algorithms. This much is already known. Also, if you liked someone’s profile previously (while they also liked yours) then your future suggestion matches can also take shape accordingly. And at the end of it all, while such platforms are often free to use, their opt-in paid features often add to the algorithm’s baseline default outcomes.
Let us take Tinder, for example, possibly one of the most widely used dating apps not only in the US but the entire world. Its algorithms depend not only on the information that you willingly share with the dating platform but also on data related to “your use of its service,” such as your location and activity. In a recently published blog post, the company explained how “[every] time your profile is “Yay”-ed or “Nay”-ed” is also taken into consideration while setting up matches with people you might potentially like. This is similar to how other platforms, such as OkCupid, explain the workings of their matching algorithms. However, on Tinder, you can go one step ahead and purchase some more “Super Likes,” which increases your probability of getting a match.
If up until now you had been wondering whether Tinder uses some secretive score rating to measure your online dating prowess, then you are right. The company often used to use something called the “Elo” rating system, which changed your “score” as people owning more right swipes on their profiles started swiping right on you as well, according to Vox’s explanation. Although the company has claimed that it’s controversial score is no longer in use, the Match Group (which own Tinder) declined other questions put up by Recode’s related to other algorithms. (Also, neither Bumble nor Grindr responded to any requests for official comments about its score usage.)
Hinge, which is again-you guessed it right- owned by the Match Group, works similarly. The platform monitors your activities on it for considering who you skip, like, and decide to match with along what you classify as your “dealbreakers”, “preferences” and “who you are likely to exchange contact numbers with” for suggesting people who could be your potential matches.
However, interestingly, the dating company also explicitly solicits feedback from its users after their successful dates to improve their algorithm even more. Furthermore, Hinge even suggests a “Most Compatible” match feature (usually almost every day), with the type of artificial intelligence’s help known as machine learning. Here is how Ashley Carman from The Verge explained the methodology behind that entire algorithm. According to her, the company’s technology assesses people depending on who liked them. It then tries to locate a kind of pattern depending upon those likes. If people like a particular person, then they might be inclined to like another person depending on who other users also liked after liking this one specific person.
You must note that such platforms can also factor in preferences that you directly share with them when asked, which can influence your outcomes. (Which factors should determine filters— such as certain platforms enable users to exclude or filter matches depending on religious background, ethnicity, as well as “body type” — which is a complicated and much-debated practice).
But even when you are not directly sharing specific preferences with your app’s system, such platforms can still go on to amplify certain problematic dating preferences.
Only very recently, a Mozilla supported team designed a game that they called MonsterMatch which was aimed at demonstrating how biases developed by your first few swipes can eventually influence your pool of widely available matches, not only for your profile but also for everyone else on the platform. The game’s website explains how this occurrence, which they called “collaborative filtering,” works:
Collaborative filtering in dating platforms translates to the phenomenon where the earliest and the initial bulk of users of the app have a disproportionate influence on the profiles that oncoming users see later. Certain early users described the likes (by swiping right) on some other active dating app users. Then that exact early user says that they do not like (by swiping left on that profile) a certain user’s profile, for whichever reason. Just as soon as some new profile swipes right on that active app user also, the algorithm itself assumes that that new person is also trying to dislike the previous user’s profile, by the principle of collaborative filtering. So a brand new person would never visit the initial profile possibly ever.
If you wish to see that happen live, you can play that game here.
Do dating apps help you find love?
Several respondents to the call-out survey for Open Sourced Reporting Network wished to know why they were not getting much luck on several of these dating apps. Researchers and surveyors are not in a position to give specific feedback, but it is worth noting that dating apps’ efficacy is not a “done and dusted away” experience and thus they have been the topic of exhaustive debate.
One recent study found that connecting online is now considered the most popular manner for meeting as far as US heterosexual couples are concerned, and Pew reported that 57% of people who actively used a dating app online found it to be somewhat of a positive experience. But such apps might also expose people to catfishing and online deception, and Ohio State researchers recommend that people suffering from social anxiety and loneliness might end up having bad experiences by using such dating platforms. Like with almost all tech innovations, dating apps their specific attributes, both good as well as bad.
Still, dating apps are very helpful tools for getting your first date, even if its long-term success is not clear. And who knows, maybe you might even get lucky.