5 Disturbing Things About Dating Apps Nobody Told You
Dating apps have many well-known problems -- a paralyzing overabundance of choices, an ever-evolving built-in language of flirtation that's tough to keep up with, the fact that most humans are just, like, fine -- but like most things to come out of Silicon Valley, they also have a hidden dark side that we only occasionally get glimpses of. As if the act of dating itself weren't already frustrating and draining beyond belief, here are five other, less obvious ways dating apps have failed us.
The "Most Eligible" Users Are Super White
Business Insider recently published a press relea- er, "article" about the ten most eligible singles for a bunch of different U.S. cities, as determined by a dating app called Hinge (the only word in the dictionary no one had used to name an app already). For example, here are the ten most eligible singles in Atlanta, apparently:
Huh. There's something ... interesting about this cross-section of "ideal dating candidates" in a city that's only 40 percent white. For one thing, there are literally more collies pictured here than black people. The Atlanta list wasn't some exception, though. The lists for other diverse cities, like Los Angeles (52 percent white), Chicago (48 percent), and New York (43 percent), only featured between one and three nonwhite people apiece.
It's the same with other dating sites, even ones that don't market themselves as "Tinder, but boring." The Cut ran a story on "The 4 Most Desired People in New York (According to OKCupid)," profiling one straight woman, one gay woman, one straight man, and one gay man. Guess what they all have in common?
Even though we're dealing with small-ish sample sizes, these articles begin to put a (white) face on an odd quirk about dating apps. The lists were all compiled by humans with editorial biases and personal opinions and presumably libidos, but the subjects they chose were based on objective data about which users received the most interactions while on the apps. So why are the results whiter than Tom Hanks' butt cheeks?
Well, here's where the real problem comes out: Certain race and gender combinations just don't do so hot on dating apps, regardless of any individual's true hotness. Black women and Asian men tend to receive disproportionately fewer interactions than comparable candidates, while white men, Asian women, and Latin women tend to receive more responses. Asian men also tend to be rated lower across the board on apps with rating systems, like OKCupid. There are many deep-seated cultural ideas about the masculinity of Asian men and the "hassle" of dating strong African-American women that appear to show up in the brutally revealing raw data about dating app interactions.
An all-white list of the "10 Most Eligible Singles in Atlanta" doesn't necessarily mean the site's editor was wearing a KKK hood. It's actually a glimpse into a much deeper issue that spans dating app users as a whole. So you see, the TRUE prejudiced app ... was us all along. Someone jot down that twist for Black Mirror Season 9.
Your Embarrassing Photos Or Personal Preferences Could End Up In An Ethically Dubious Study Somewhere
Now, that study didn't include identifying information, but another researcher estimated that he could use the data to match those foot fetishes and such to around 10,000 real names and faces with 90 percent certainty. If you're feeling relieved because you don't use OKCupid, bad news: In 2017, a data collector scraped 40,000 Tinder images (including sexually suggestive ones) to use as a data set to test his facial recognition AI. But hey, at least this is all in the name of scientific enlightenment and the data is in good han- oh, the Tinder dude referred to his research subjects as "hoes"? And the lead OKCupid researcher advocates for eugenics and pedophilia? Welp.
The instructions for the Tinder "Face Scraper" method were also made public to let other interested parties know how to do the exact same thing. Needless to say, the guy developing the "Abs or Machu Picchu?" app was ALL over that.
Again, the affected users didn't opt in to this experiment, but they also didn't exactly opt out. Tinder's terms and conditions require users to give the app the rights to control their photos, though the legality gets murkier when a third party's accessing those photos for a separate purpose. Until OKCupid and Tinder sort out those technicalities (if they ever do), the apps will remain ideal taproots for photo and data sets. They contain tons of current, relevant, "public" data that's easy to categorize. It's just that in this case, those data points happen to reflect your extremely personal preferences about what engorges your genitalia.
So be careful! Unless you're on the lookout for free data, or you want as many third-party researchers as possible checking out your cleavage in your bridesmaids dress. In which case, good news?
Tinder Knows More About You Than You Think, And Is Super Easy To Hack
Speaking of Tinder and data (and dystopian sci-fi), it wouldn't be hyperbole to say that the app might know you better than you know yourself. And as one Guardian columnist found out, the information Tinder collects goes WAY beyond a couple of front-facing semi-embarrassing profile pics. Much like Facebook, Tinder collects pretty much everything: the ages of people you demonstrate interest in, the physical location of all your conversations, how much time you spent staring at that one person's beach bod, you name it. The article's writer learned that Tinder had 800 pages of data just on her. And that's standard.
Of course, you volunteer all of this information to the company willingly. But that's the cost of doing business with these apps, right? It's unsettling, but it'd only become a severe problem if the sites with all your ultra-specific sexual preferences were, say, shockingly easy to hack or something. You know where this is going.
In 2017, security researchers discovered that dating apps like Tinder, OKCupid, and Bumble kinda half-assed the whole "security" thing. The researchers were able to use easily exploitable flaws to unearth peoples' real names, login info, message histories, profiles they'd looked at, and other data. In another odd wrinkle, Tinder's lack of image file encryption makes it possible for users on the same shared WiFi network to spy on your swiping activity. So that's why everyone was looking at you funny at the Thanksgiving table.
So simply be aware that all of your most intimate actions are being recorded with diamond-cutting specificity, and that information gets stored forever and can be stolen relatively easily. 'Nother round of MARGS???
Alexa's Match.com Feature Laughs At Your Questions About Consent
Amazon's Alexa virtual assistant recently partnered with Match.com, which is appropriate, since we can't be the only ones who think Alexa kinda looks like a fancy sex toy. Using the new Match "skill," people could ask the device for dating advice, and Alexa would respond with a mix of helpful tips and sassy jokes. Certainly doesn't sound like something that would immediately backfire in the most predictable, embarrassing way possible!
The MatchLexa abomination would encourage users to drink another cocktail "or six" if they didn't like their date, but that wasn't even the shadiest thing about it. The device was programmed with a default response to any questions it didn't know: It would simply reply "LOL." Unfortunately, no one programmed the skill with any information regarding a little concept called "consent." So if anyone asked Alexa legitimate questions about what constitutes consent, it would kick back to the default answer and say "LOL." It really didn't take long for the company's attempt at lighthearted romantic advice to devolve into a faceless robot laughing at sexual assault, but such is the natural progression of anything Silicon Valley does.
The app was quickly pulled. It was an isolated mistake, but serves as another reminder that the Utopian era of everyone dating sexbots isn't exactly right around the corner. But on the plus side, "pickup artist" might be one of like five jobs to survive automation this decade.
Grindr Shared Users' HIV Statuses With Third Parties
"A tech company gave away your private data" went from major scandal to another fact of life in record time, but some cases still manage to be shocking. Case in point: Grindr, the dating app centered around men seeking other men, came under fire earlier this year after European researchers discovered that the app had shared, among other things, its users' HIV statuses with third-party developers. This kinda taints the timing of Grindr's announcement, only a week earlier, that they would periodically remind users to get tested for HIV. It's hard not to think that they were only after more of that sweet, precious data.
Grindr's parent company issued a vague statement that it was working with other software vendors to improve their platform, and in doing so may have disclosed users' statuses, but reiterated that "Grindr is a public forum" and encouraged people to "carefully consider what information to include in your profile." Essentially, they went with the "Eh, everyone's doing it" argument. After all, anyone who types anything into an app is offering their information voluntarily, and doesn't have to be straight up asked whether it's OK if the company shares that information with anyone else. Even if said information includes sensitive stuff like "There's a feared virus in my body."
And in a way, they're not wrong. Apps do do this all the time. But that's ... exactly why it's so worrisome? Apps sharing data with third-party vendors has become so incredibly normalized and baked into the profitability of app-making itself that individual people's HIV statuses being shared with software developers is no more alarming to companies than Facebook serving up HAIM concert ads to people who clicked on HAIM.
We're only a couple of data leaks away from shirts like that saying "Don't mess with someone with DEBILITATING CHLAMYDIA."
The counterargument: "So don't use them!" GREAT point. Why are you using dating apps, anyway? Because traditional dating has glaring limitations and technology offers up numerous advantages in our ever-growing pursuit of human connection? PSHHH. Why should there be ANY middle ground between "Never use any technology to improve your life" and "You just have to accept that companies are gonna sell your attraction to dominant daddies (which you haven't even figured out about yourself yet) to random advertisers?"
As of now, that middle ground doesn't really exist. So be careful out there! Remember that your location and everything you ever do is constantly being recorded. Now get out there and un-self-consciously flirt!
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