In November 2013, about a year after its successful launch in the U.S., the dating app Tinder held a lavish party at the Cirque du Soir nightclub in London’s West End to herald its arrival in the UK. There was a midget with a pig mask, fire dancers and free Vodka Red Bull for each guest.
Among the revelers was one Milo Yiannopoulos. Milo hadn’t yet reinvented himself as a U.S.-based culture wars warrior but true to form, Heat Street hears the provocateur caused trouble by stealing a bottle of Louis Roederer Cristal champagne that would otherwise have cost him a thousand pounds to buy at the club and running out of the party. Security pursued Milo and his friends, who escaped into the night by jumping over a metal fence.
Milo may have left Tinder’s UK launch under something of a cloud, but ever since then it seems as though the party for Tinder has never stopped. Within two years of starting, Tinder registered over one billion swipes daily (the user swipes right to pick their potential lovers from photos). The company is a rare example of a successful corporate mobile app.
Yet the fastest growing free dating app that pioneered love in the digital age is experiencing some growing pains. It’s having a turbulent year, and it’s time to ask: is Tinder in trouble? Is Tinderella turning into a nightmare?
An increasingly significant problem for Tinder, which describes itself as “like real life but better,” is the overwhelming number of fake accounts on the app. Tinder relies on Facebook profiles for registration and one user told Heat Street he has sworn off swiping since he’s more likely to encounter a Nigerian con man on the app than the girl of his dreams.
“I used to be addicted but I don’t use it anymore,” he said. “It’s become flooded with fakes. If you live in New York, you have to wade through reams of chat bots and spam profiles.
“Sure you can tell who is genuine when you scroll down to the user profile and biographical details but it’s so tiresome to have to read each individual message to decipher whether you’re interacting with someone real.
“I don’t understand why Tinder can’t construct better filters to stop all the requests for money and the attempts to get you to download malicious software. I’m sure smaller cities have a higher proportion of proper users but in New York and LA, Tinder has become full-on Fakeorama.”
The problem seems to have escalated in recent weeks:
@OhhDestiny I tried tinder. Only got spams and fakes. Sadly.
— Jesse James (@Caliguy) September 23, 2016
@JootasticLady tinder is garbage it’s full of fakes and well it’s purely looks based. Then again TBH all
Dating apps are really.
— Tom Denton (@tommydent_95) September 26, 2016
@gizmo_v3 Other than the pathetic fakes, does anyone on Tinder actually talk?
— RyRy (@itsRyRyUK) September 27, 2016
Another Tinder user told Heat Street he almost got taken in by an automated bot that billed itself as “Tinder Safe Dating,” which requested his credit card details for verification purposes but was actually out to trap the user to sign up to online porn trials at a cost of over $100 a month.
Forever matching with fakes on Tinder. Sure I’m destined to be single pic.twitter.com/rP8OfoooNI
— Dan Williams (@dlrwills) September 18, 2016
Tinder sucks in general, but the most annoying part is when completely normal looking people turn out to be fakes.
— Derek’s Daycare (@DereksDaycare) August 26, 2016
Then there are escalating privacy concerns. Many remain uneasy that it’s possible to pay $5 to discover if someone is active on Tinder. Tinder also featured prominently in The Daily Beast‘s highly controversial investigation into a reporter’s attempts to use several dating apps near the Olympic Village in the Rio de Janeiro suburb of Barra da Tijuca. It risked identifying a number of closeted gay Olympic athletes. Nico Hines, the writer of the article, is currently the subject of an internal review at The Daily Beast and has not written a piece for six weeks.
— Ella Dawson (@brosandprose) April 4, 2016
Online dating is a notoriously imperfect science. (The Guardian Soulmates online dating service once tried to set up two of my cousins up on a date.) But many think in its quest to become a leading social media application, Tinder, just like love itself, has become complicated.
The app offers Tinder Plus (the bizarre scaling pricing system charges people over 30 $19.99, which is $10 more than people under 30); Tinder Social, the app’s orgy-friendly group feature that helps friends to hang out; Tinder Passport, which is designed for traveling hook-ups; Tinder Spotify integration; and a political social media app called “Swipe the Vote” that was only marginally more successful in the realm of civic engagement than Anthony Weiner’s efforts to fuse tech, politics and romance.
The app has just launched Tinder Boost, a queue jump system that will allow users to appear among the top profiles in their area for half an hour for a fee. Tinder Boost is being tested in Australia prior to a worldwide rollout, but some fear it will serve to further cheapen the love app’s commodization of romance. The website Endgadget reported that Tinder Boost “could be divisive given it provides an advantage to people with deep pockets, rather than those who might be a better match for people in their local area.”
As well as product overreach, Tinder suffers from another problem that most thriving startups risk facing: consumer fatigue.
Last July, Match Group, which owns Tinder, Match.com and OkCupid, attracted less than the expected number of users in the second quarter of 2016. Tinder’s subscription model, while hugely successful with over one million premium users, is not growing at the rate the company had anticipated.
Brandon Ross, analyst at BTIG, said last July: “It’s going to be harder in the long run to be able to sell the amount of paid memberships for Tinder that makes up for all of the loss from other brands.” Tinder also lost goodwill among millennials by suing 3nder, a British threesome app, for having a name that sounded too similar.
Tinder has jumped the shark pic.twitter.com/VHHFAKKpzP
— Ballpark Frank (@Chazballpark) December 30, 2015
Then there’s the competition. How About We, Bumble, Pure and Happn all present increasingly attractive alternatives to Tinder. One former female Tinder user tells me when she found Bumble, founded by former Tinder employee Whitney Wolfe, she never thought about going back to the app: “Bumble allows me to control the conversation more with guys on my terms. Tinder is full of dicks and their dick pics.” (Wolfe filed a sexual harassment lawsuit that accused her former bosses of “atrocious acts.”)
Tinder is also in the precarious position of being indebted to Facebook. In its IPO prospectus a year ago, the Match Group wrote: “In the case of Tinder…Facebook has broad discretion to change its terms and conditions applicable to the use of its platform in this manner and to interpret its terms and conditions in ways that could limit, eliminate or otherwise interfere with our ability to use Facebook in this manner and if Facebook did so, our business, financial condition and results of operations could be adversely affected.” Translation: We need to keep Mark Zuckerberg sweet otherwise it’s the beginning of the end.
Milo might have pilfered an expensive bottle of bubbly at the launch party, but with Tinder seemingly drunk on its own power and unable to prevent millions of fake bots from crashing their party, for how much longer will the app continue to crack open the champagne?