Take Caution Before You Tinder

Illustration by Esther Liu

Kyle Dent
A.S. Beat Reporter

Dating in I.V. is difficult (at least for the facially impaired — don’t rub it in), and wading through hordes of frat boys, unicycle kids, woo-girls and uwu-girls has led many college students to enlist the help of dating apps like Tinder. However, dating apps come with a hidden price: the app developer’s access to an undying web of every choice, message, and personal fact entered on the app.

Upon signing up for Tinder, the app warns you that the information you enter will be saved, but that it’s all “standard practice,” and you can download a copy of the data they have on you at any time. 

This wasn’t always the case — a user’s ability to access Tinder’s file on them only came after Judith Duportail’s extensive legal process to get access to her own data.

In late 2017, Duportail — an European Union (E.U.) resident — appealed to the E.U.’s Data Protection Act to get her file, and only received it after much resistance from Tinder. She was sent an 800-page document, detailing nearly every second of her time on the app. 

Tinder’s website states that they “won’t compromise with your data,” and — in an interview after the Cambridge Analytica controversy — Tinder C.E.O. Elie Seidman stated as much: “We don’t sell data,” he said. He clarified that the company does not “rely” on advertising. 

However, within Tinder’s privacy policy, the organization states that “you should not expect that your personal information, chats, or other communications will always remain secure … [we] also share some users’ information … with other Match Group [Tinder’s parent company] companies … ” which include websites like Plenty of Fish, Hinge, Match.com, and OKCupid. 

Furthermore, advertising is a powerful revenue stream for Tinder, according to Match’s V.P. of communication. The company’s  annual revenue is only four percent, but this still culminates in roughly $53 million a year earned from selling user information.

So what is the information Tinder collects on you? It includes everything from when you use the app, for how long, the age filters you’ve chosen for yourself, the ages of those you typically match with, your education, your amount of swipes and matches, every message you’ve sent, when and where you sent them, and your jobs.

If you link other social media accounts to Tinder, like Facebook, Spotify, or Instagram, Tinder’s file gets even bigger. They’ll also have access to much of the information you enter on Facebook, as well as posts you’ve liked. Instagram users will find that Tinder has every picture you’ve ever uploaded — including the ones you deleted — and if you link Spotify, Tinder has much of your listening history. 

Tinder clearly states they can share this data “with … advertisers and investors … general business analysis, advertising, marketing, or other business purposes,” and also that your data may be transferred to countries with leaner data laws than your own. 

This sounds like vague legal jargon that may not affect you, but Tinder and its owner Match, take action on these promises. As detailed in a 2018 Vice article, an arts and information group called Tactical Tech used a “data broker” website called USDate to buy one million full dating profiles for only $153 — less than 1/10th of a cent each.

Deals like this happen every day, and these aren’t underground or shady proceedings either — they happen on USDate’s public website, in large sets, or niche packs, that only include those within a certain nationality, sexuality, or set of personality traits — ostensibly, to sell products to you as efficiently as possible. The site SaleDatingProfiles.com even has annual spring and summer sales on their data sets. 

Tinder, however — along with the majority of Match’s products — is free. Perhaps offering up your data anonymously is just the price we must accept to use these services, but it’s undeniable that these sales can leave users exposed. A researcher at Carnegie Mellon University claimed he could match up private details and histories (such as prior drug usage and kinks) that he found within these niche packs to 10,000 specific users — with 90% accuracy.

Match Group services aren’t the only companies that may leave you vulnerable. Some Grindr users have found that hackers have been able to access their information and send messages with their account. 

Unfortunately, this is a growing reality. Many apps are limiting opportunities to opt out, and these drawbacks continue to grow. The U.S. has few laws in line with the aforementioned E.U. privacy statute, and regressive legislators are not taking any steps towards that future. 

If your privacy is important to you, never fear. There are some steps you can take to protect your personal information, which include: refrain from linking other accounts to your dating profile, and trying to use separate pictures from those you put on other social media. By taking these steps and being more cognizant of your digital footprint in general, hopefully we can all engage more in happy (and safe) swiping! 

Illustration by Esther Liu