Dating Apps

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nline Dating Applications, or Dating Apps, are web-hosted dating services accessible as a mobile
The most popular dating apps of 2020
phone or personal computer application. They often utilize many affordances from a user's connected device, such as GPS location capabilities, on-hand presence, and accessibility to other mobile applications such as photos or videos.

Dating applications today increase the frequency with which traditional dating takes place, introducing individuals to a variety of possible matches based on characteristics such as location, possible interests or hobbies, and even religious or ethnic preferences. By leveraging various affordances, dating applications allow users to customize their relationship search, supporting any form ranging from a casual hookup to a more committed relationship.

History of Online Dating Applications

Technology has been a part of modern dating practices since the 1950s. Operation Match
The Operation Match report given to a participant after matching was done algorithmically
is considered to be the first dating service to incorporate the use of a computer. Launched in 1965, Operation Match utilized the IBM 7090 computer to algorithmically create matches based on responses collected through paper questionnaires. Created by students at Harvard University and Cornell University, Operation Match remained service to help college students find dates rather than foster relationships that could potentially lead to marriage. The service was later bought by a student marketing company after the founders pivoted careers.[1]

In the late 1970s, services that allowed video dating began to rise. In 1995, the popular dating service launched and was soon followed by other competitors such as, Ashley Madison, and OKCupid. However, it was not until 2009 that dating became accessible via a mobile phone application. Grindr became the inaugural mobile-first platform by providing a location-based dating application for homosexual men. In 2012, Tinder was founded by a startup incubator Hatch Labs and the dating "swipe" became increasingly popular. By 2013, Tinder was processing over 350 million swipes per day and by 2014, over 1 billion swipes per day.[2] Other popular dating applications such as JSwipe, targeted toward singles of Jewish descent, and Bumble, which requires women to initiate conversations, also launched in 2014. In 2018, it was estimated that nearly 23.8 million [2] adults utilized a dating application of some kind.

Affordances of Dating Applications

Many social media scholars have cited mobility, proximity, immediacy, and visual dominance[3] as affordances that differentiate dating applications from online dating websites. Because dating applications leverage the on-hand presence of a smartphone, users are able to utilize the application at any point in time from any location, thereby increasing the mobility as well as the accessibility of a dating service. While online dating sites provide possible matches by examining the general region in which the user resides, a dating application often returns possible matches within the same vicinity, thereby increasing a user's proximity to a potential match. Dating applications are also more visually driven compared to online dating websites, as images of a potential match take up a sizable portion of a phone screen compared to a computer screen. [3]

As forms of computer-mediated communication, dating applications also exhibit many of the affordances of social network sites. Presentation flexibility, the extent to which a platform affords the ability to engage in self-presentation through a variety of styles, is one such affordance.[4] On Bumble, a user has the ability to not only upload images of their choosing but are also provided with text-boxes and a variety of structured profile fields that allow them to disclose any additional information about themselves, ranging from their religious and ethnic preferences to their smoking/drinking habits and political views. Content and Identity persistence [4] are also key affordances of dating applications as any information a user chooses to disclose remains associated with that user until they decide to change it. As a result, dating applications allow the user to be linked to a stable online identity,[4] greatly reducing anonymity as well as the tendency to create temporary accounts.

Online Dating in the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic, of which the earliest cases were reported New Years Eve 2019 in China, has changed how society is approaching every situation, and online dating is no exception.[5] When the global pandemic officially began in March 2020 and the virus arrived in the United States, many state governments such as in Michigan and California reacted quickly by issuing “stay-at-home” orders, lasting for much of the year in 2020, and meant to curb the spread of the highly infectious disease.[5] The unintended consequences were the disruption of work and social lives for millions of U.S citizens.

Image: Shuttershock 2021 [6]

With strict social distancing guidelines in effect, limits were also placed on large gatherings including even family members, and millions of people were now burdened with freetime and found themselves isolated and alone in their homes, without the opportunity to socialize ‘normally.’ The pandemic conditions have only served to exacerbate conditions of loneliness, whereby many people have turned to online dating applications as a way to pass time, stay connected with others, and meet new people, safely and in accordance with social distancing guidelines.[7] reported that since the pandemic began dating on their website was up 82% and another popular dating app Bumble reports a 26% increase in users utilizing the direct messaging features of their platform.[8] Facebook Dating which launched in 2019, benefits from the platform’s massive user base with 1 of 10 Americans reporting they use Facebook. In response to the pandemic, Facebook developed a new virtual dating option, to help facilitate connection during these unprecedented conditions. Despite the uptick in usage of online dating applications, it is reported that singles are suggesting dating has become a chore and more laborious than ever before.[9] Still, with pandemic ongoing and without end in sight, online dating applications offer a safe and convenient way to continue dating in an era of social distancing.

Criminal Activities Involving Dating Applications

Rape & Sexual Assault

While dating applications continue to be popular, there are many safety concerns surrounding them, particularly the risk of being raped or sexually assaulted. In the United Kingdom, there were 33 dating applications based rape allegations in 2009, but by 2014 there were 184 such cases, a sixfold increase. [10] In 2015, there were 277 Tinder-related [11] crimes reported, with a majority of the cases involving
Clay Conaway now stands on trial
aggression and sexual assault.

In 2019, a 23-year-old male Ahmed Ismail in St. Paul, Minnesota was accused of raping a woman whom he had met on Tinder just shortly after he picked her up for their first date. [12] The woman stated that everything seemed normal at first, but he suddenly pulled into a St. Paul neighborhood nowhere near the restaurant and started to violently kiss and grope her, despite her pleas for him to stop. She said that after he raped her, he told her to get out of his car. The woman then ran to her apartment to call her roommate, who immediately took her to a nearby hospital for an examination. Ismail has now been charged with first-degree criminal sexual conduct.

Similarly in 2018, a 20-year-old woman who matched with college athlete Clay Conaway on Bumble reported that Conaway had forced her to have sex with him after she willingly kissed him during their movie night. [13] She later said that he ignored her anxiety attack and repeated objections, instead stating that "it was fine" as "they were just messing around". Now, Conaway stands on trial for sexually assaulting six different women, many of whom came forward after the 20-year-old described her own experience.


In 2018, a 27-year-old man Danueal Drayton [14] was accused of raping and murdering a 29-year-old nurse Samantha Stewart
The victim Samantha Stewart
, whom he met on Tinder. New York City police have also connected this murder to his involvement in other rapes and killings, most involving women that he met through dating and ride-sharing applications. Drayton is currently being held on a bail of $1.25 million.

On March 13, 2020, a 21-year-old male Adam Rosenberg had been charged with the shooting and killing 28-year-old Jeremy Dentel in February this year. [15] The two had been communicating with one another through 'Find Men', a dating application for homosexuals. Their messages indicated that Rosenberg had wanted to meet in-person, and set-up a time to do so on February 15, 2020 at Dentel's home where Dentel was eventually killed. Rosenberg is currently being held at the Allegheny County Jail in Pittsburgh as he awaits arraignment.

Ethical Issues Surrounding Dating Applications

Commodifying Relationships

One ethical issue that arises from the use of dating applications is the commodification of relationships. Most dating applications, utilizing locations, preferences, and other factors, algorithmically personalize potential matches to the user. As a result, it creates a 'shopping culture' where users are seeking potential partners as they would items at a grocery store, having with them a pre-determined 'list' of qualities they are looking for in a partner. [16] This phenomenon is further exacerbated by the vast amount of choice available to users through a dating application. As users are exposed to the vast 'supply' of potential partners that fit within the realm of their preferences, individuals are more likely to engage in a cost-benefit analysis with potential partners. [16] Relationships begin to be viewed in terms of probabilities and odds as users become aware that there are plenty of options available in the 'marketplace', even if one interaction does not meet expectations.

The 'dating swipe' further complicates the "shopping culture" present in dating applications. While the easy to use affordance can make seeking a potential match engaging, it can also lead to a misappropriation of the applications as a "game". Adopting such a mindset can potentially lead to 'mindless swiping', which further exacerbates the tendency to engage in a cost-benefit analysis. Therefore, the ability to find and create authentic relationships becomes more difficult as users evaluate each other on surface-level characteristics such as attractiveness.[17] This culture fostered by dating applications also further contributes to a phenomenon known as "ghosting", in which one person abruptly ceases all communication with the other person without explanation.


Another ethical issue surrounding the use of dating applications is the likelihood of deception. Nearly 53% of all Americans fabricate parts of their dating profiles, though the degree to which it is done is varied.[18] To safeguard the authenticity of a user, many dating applications like Tinder and Bumble require the use of a Facebook profile or an existing email address when creating an account. Users are also advised but not required to follow a "one-time selfie" policy to ensure that the images being posted are representative of the user themselves. However, the construction of the profile
Reflecting a persona different from your own is possible on dating apps
on the dating application itself can be entirely falsified beyond the images themselves. Most users engage in mechanisms of self-presentation, providing "highlight reels" of their best qualities through their profile. As a result, the lack of full disclosure can lead to possible deception when users engage in offline interactions.

Deception can also be more harmful, such as in the case of catfishing. Catfishing, a practice where users deliberately embody fake identities online, can have serious consequences for the victim, ranging from safety threats to financial scamming under the disguise of a romantic relationship. While it is important for users to utilize their personal discretion to avoid being catfished, dating applications like Blume are developing features that may make this process easier. Blume was created with the specific goal to prevent catfishing on dating applications and allows users to verify their matches' images themselves. Users on the application can choose to communicate with their match only if they believe that the profile they see is genuine, not only diminishing the possibility of being catfished but also increasing the possibility of finding a more authentic match.


Privacy is also another ethical issue common amongst dating applications. Since many dating applications are location-based and utilize GPS, there is a high likelihood for these applications to experience privacy breaches. In 2019, OkCupid came under scrutiny as users were dealing with an increasing amount of hackers that were changing their login information, though the company denied a possible breach. In November 2013, Quartz found a privacy breach on Tinder: [19] the API design of the application was falsely telling users that a match had been created when it had not been, allowing users to find other users' email addresses.

Furthermore, many dating application sites sell the personal information of their users to thousands of third-party vendors. [20] While some dating applications like Tinder are semi-transparent about the involvement of third-party vendors[21] in their privacy policies, users' personal information can still be accessed by several third-party vendors, sometimes without the users' knowledge.

For example, an article published in September 2017 on The Guardian detailed one journalist's deep dive into a request she made to Tinder to provide all the data that had been recorded about her. The article details that Tinder stores information that the user may be unaware of, including unencrypted user messages, the attributes a user may have that are of interest to other users, and even the length of time users spend looking at particular pictures. In totality, this data amounted to 800 pages of information. [22]

While the use of other social network sites such as Facebook and Instagram can help validate the authenticity of the users engaged on the platforms, it also provides access to possible images and information beyond what a user discloses on the dating application itself. This also poses a privacy risk as potential scammers can utilize the connectivity of the various platforms to generate a more in-depth user profile, leading to a greater possibility of various cybersecurity issues such as identity theft. [23]

Dating applications have fallen under scrutiny for data privacy concerns before. For example, in 2018, the dating application Grindr was accused of selling data pertaining to its users' HIV status to various companies and third-party vendors.[24] Grindr did not deny these allegations; instead, they defended their actions and cited the optimization of their platform as the justification.[25]

There is further evidence that the data privacy risks associated with dating applications may not be limited to data distributed by the application itself. A study conducted in 2015 analyzed a variety of dating apps including Tinder, Grindr, and Bumble, and found that most dating applications are vulnerable to online attacks such as sniffing (theft or interception of data that occurs when the attacker captures network traffic via network packets).[26] Sniffing attacks leave user attributes such as sexual orientation, dating preferences, contact information, matches, etc. vulnerable for interception.

It is important to note that data privacy concerns will also vary from country to country. For example, dating app users in Europe are protected by GDPR sanctions, which are in place to protect the distribution of user data both within and outside of the EU.


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  11. Dating apps fuel rise in sex attacks: Sites linked to reports of rape and grooming 10 January 2016. Retrieved March 26, 2020
  12. Horner, Sarah. "Man accused of raping a woman he met on Tinder after picking her up for the first date in St. Paul"1 March 2019. Retrieved March 26, 2020
  13. Shammas, Brittany. He met his victims on Bumble and Tinder, prosecutors say. His attorneys say women were there to hook up18 September 2019. Retrieved March 26, 2020
  14. Cops: Suspect in slaying of New York nurse caught holding a woman captive in L.A. hotel 27 July 2018. Retrieved March 26, 2020
  15. Washington, Lisa. 21-Year-Old Charged With Homicide After 28-Year-Old Man Shot Dead In Baldwin Home 19 February 2020. Retrieved March 26, 2020
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  19. "Tinder’s privacy breach lasted much longer than the company claimed on Tinder" Retrieved on March 13, 2020
  20. Williams, Robert. "Tinder, Grindr sell personal data in possible violation of privacy laws, study says"15 January 2020. Retrieved 13 March 2020
  21. "Tinder's Privacy Policy" Retrieved March 13, 2020
  22. Duportail, Judith · (September 26, 2017) · I asked Tinder for my data. It sent me 800 pages of my deepest, darkest secrets · The Guardian · 04-15-2021
  23. Schlesinger, Jennifer. "How cyberthieves are targeting online daters" 22 February 2014. Retrieved March 13, 2020
  24. Moylan, Brian · (2018-04-04) · Grindr was a safe space for gay men. Its HIV status leak betrayed us · The Guardian · 04-15-2021
  25. Kimball, Spencer · (2018-04-02) · Grindr defends sharing user HIV status with other companies · work · 04-15-2021
  26. Patsakis, Constantinos · (date) · [url Analysis of privacy and security exposure in mobile dating applications] · work · 04-15-2021