Behind-the-scenes mechanisms of dating apps

Dating apps have undoubtedly revolutionised the way we date and meet new people. Familiar to probably everyone –  even non-users – swiping right and left is a seemingly very simple mechanism, but behind it there are elaborate algorithms, advertising channels and a way to monetise user data. Because of Valentinesday our colleagues from ERGO Technology & Servicis took a closer look at whether a match can be perfect and what stands behind apps like Tinder, Bumble, or Badoo.

Dating apps have been one of the biggest game-changers in the way we find love. But have you ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes? The algorithms used by these apps play a crucial role in connecting us with potential partners. Yet, there is also a darker side to this type of networking tools, and apps such as Tinder, Grindr, and OkCupid along with their data sharing practices have often been the subject of debate in recent years.

In search of a soulmate

One of the most popular algorithms used by dating apps is the shared interests algorithm. In simple terms, it matches users based on their hobbies and interests. For example, if you and a potential match both love hiking, the app will suggest you as a recommended option. It serves to find someone who shares your passions, making it more likely for the two of you to have things in common and hit it off. Another example is the psychological compatibility algorithm that uses personality tests and questionnaires to match users based on their values, beliefs, and personality traits. It helps to connect people who are more likely to be compatible on a deeper level, beyond just shared interests.

Finally, some dating apps use machine learning algorithms to personalise the dating experience. They analyse a user's browsing and messaging history to suggest potential partners whom they are more likely to be interested in. Based on a natural language processing, they interpret the content of messages and suggest potential responses. And that is the key to make the dating experience much more tailored to the individual's preferences. There are, however, claims that these algorithms, despite their original intention of connecting people, may also perpetuate pre-existing biases and discrimination in the dating process.

“Dating apps are perfect uses cases for machine learning – there’s plenty of room for pattern matching, comparison, and suggestions. In addition, it can enhance the communication experience with the use of the automated spelling correction or romantic content suggestions,” says Paweł Bulowski, Senior Project Manager, AI & Data Division at ERGO Technology & Services in Poland.  Some of these apps can also improve the quality of the profile pics. While all of this is really great in the virtual space does it still work when you then have to meet in person? It would seem so, as the popularity of dating sites continues to grow and the relationships made trough dating sites seem to be no less successful than those initiated in a more traditional way.

Dating apps are undoubtedly not losing their popularity. Despite the economic downturn and rising living expenses, the amount we spend on premium dating accounts keeps growing. Match Group, which owns Tinder, Hinge, and OkCupid, reported that in the July-September period, earnings from premium account sales rose 7 per cent to a record USD 810 million quarterly. The number of active users of their dating apps also increased to a total of around 100 million.

Dating apps: light and shadow

It seems that these figures leave no room for doubts: The apps work well and we are not afraid to invest in finding true love. However, the reality does not paint such a colourful picture. Once again, the reason are algorithms. In 2020, media from all over the world covered data leaks at Tinder, Grindr and OkCupid. The information about users that came to light concerned their exact location, sexual orientation, ethnicity, the time they spend searching for a potential match, as well as sensitive data such as being HIV-positive. 

Still, this is not the only example of lively discussions about dating apps. Tinder's algorithm that measures users' level of attractiveness and matches them with others with similar scores has also stirred the pot. Nowadays, many comments relate to the fact that the first profiles that appear when the app is switched on are the most attractive people in the area, encouraging us to search further. The biggest sceptics even claim that the app is deliberately unsupportive in its search for potential partners in order to keep users engaged for longer and, at a later stage, get them to buy a premium account.

Yes or no?

No matter if we are die-hard users or outspoken opponents, dating apps have changed the way we make new contacts and for many have become part of everyday life. When deciding whether to use them, it is worth taking a moment to consider to what extent the balance of benefits – such as the chance to meet someone special – is worth the risks – the data shared is not only a clue to our potential matches, but also for advertisers.

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