The Dating Apps Dilemma: Algorithms and Data Commodification
December 28, 2021 12:54 pm ||
The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the dating scene in Indonesia. Due to the social-restriction order, dating in the real world has become even more challenging. Hence, many people are turning to online dating as the solution. With the help of online dating apps, finding the right one during the pandemic becomes easier. The shift to online dating in Indonesia is reflected by the influx of new users and increased activities on online dating apps. Tinder Indonesia, for example, reported an increase of user conversation by an average of 23% compared to the previous year in 2020[i].
So, what is online dating? What makes it different from conventional dating?
Citing to Sari and Kusuma[ii],online dating is a form of Computer-Mediated Communication activity. While conventional dating relies on finding and connecting with the right person through face-to-face interaction, online dating is aided by a system intentionally created to assist people in finding and interacting with their potential suitors. Therefore, the first step of online dating is creating an account in online dating apps. Then, the user must fill out the application form with personal information and dating preference to register. Once registered, the user could post photos and share any information the online dating community wants to know about them. Then, if they are matched with other users, they could exchange text messages, emoticons, pictures, and even video calls, to help them get to know each other. What sets online dating apart from conventional dating is that an algorithm assists the matching process in online dating. Online dating apps utilize complex algorithms to match users’ dating preferences and profiles. Besides using the manually inserted data, the algorithm also uses users’ digital footprint to provide precise match recommendations.
For some people, online dating is seen as equally good or even better than conventional dating. With the higher population and advanced algorithms, online dating apps offer a higher chance of finding the right one without much effort. However, some drawbacks of online dating need to be discussed further despite the perks. One of the drawbacks is that many users might not be aware that the algorithm could enable unconscious bias in their preference. It is also possible that the algorithm will only recommend matches based on the recorded preference bias. Other issues that also need to be highlighted behind the benefits of using online dating apps are the use of bubble filters and data commodification. This article was written to elaborate further on how the algorithms in online dating apps work and the problems that may arise due to the use of online dating apps.
Algorithm Prediction in Dating Apps
The algorithm used in dating apps can process data from various sources; data derived from social media and manually inputted information are some of the examples[iii]. When opening a new account, users are required to fill out a questionnaire about their personal information and dating preferences. Most apps also allow users to sync their social media profiles, which serves as another data collection point (for example, Tinder users can link their Instagram accounts). Adding social media is an attractive option for many people because it allows them to express their identity better. After that, all the data and interactions (including chat records) in the application will be detected, tracked, and stored. Then, the algorithm will use this data to match users with potential partners.
The algorithms used by online dating apps encourage users to interact with other users with similar dating preferences. Research conducted by Parisi and Comunello[iv] found that online dating apps control partner selection and make match recommendations from users’ submitted data and track their activities on the apps. If we examined further, dating apps algorithms are quite similar to search engines such as Google or social networking sites like Facebook and Instagram[v]. A set of algorithms is responsible for compiling each content to be displayed. Then, the algorithm sorts what they will recommend by relying on a large set of indicators, such as relevance and guesswork on each user. The mechanisms involved in this selection process contribute to creating or enhancing the so-called filter bubble.
People are more likely attracted to people who are compatible with them ideologically, demographically, or socioeconomically[vi]. This situation is where the filter bubble provides a space based on the user’s desire; filter bubbles can strengthen users’ desire for something they want to know without realizing they are trapped in an unknown dark area. Based on this pattern, dating apps can be framed as part of a “black box society,” as the criteria that drive user fit and compatibility are not clearly stated[vii]. Many users are unaware that this algorithm has sorted and organized their profile recommendations. Unconsciously, users enter an environment where algorithms and filter bubbles have compartmentalized and conditioned to match up with other users similar to them. Thus, it can be concluded that algorithms primarily regulate the world of online dating, decide what users will see, and create filter bubbles. Therefore, it is necessary to rethink the presence of algorithms and filter bubbles to make the online dating experience more less-biased and socially aware.
Data Commodification in Dating Apps
As mentioned earlier, the online dating application algorithm works based on the data collected in the app. The data provided voluntarily by users enable the algorithm to understand what they like or do not like ranging from their culinary preference, date places, and more. Some apps like Bumble even allow users to put their vacation preferences on their profiles. The algorithm will match users from the given preferences based on the data provided. The algorithm also provides match recommendations based on how frequent users use the apps. So, the frequent someone uses the apps, the algorithm will increase the number of match recommendations. However, there is also a downside; the growing number of users could attract companies to start advertising on dating apps[viii]. Therefore, there is a possibility that online dating apps may sell users’ data to the advertiser, threatening users’ right to data privacy. However, the next question arises: what about users who have paid for online dating application services? Do they have to keep paying, even though they have provided many data to the application? This problem seems to have not been addressed yet by online dating apps.
Matching users with similar interests is an essential task for online dating apps. On the one hand, the algorithms used in online dating apps can help users meet suitable partners more conveniently. While on the other hand, online dating app algorithms need to reflect the human experience more accurately and consider users’ diverse and evolving tastes. It is also necessary for online dating apps to inform users how they manage and use their data. Online dating apps should be fully responsible for assuring users’ data privacy. While this article only focuses on criticizing the problematic sides of online dating apps, this writing can be developed further to analyze how data commodification in online dating apps is formed and processed.
Author: Firya Qurattuain Abisono
Editor Amelinda Pandu kusumaningtyas
[i] CNN Indonesia. (2020). Wabah Corona Bikin Aplikasi Kencan Online Laris Manis. Diambil dari https://www.cnnindonesia.com/teknologi/20200402144747-185-489624/wabah-corona-bikin-aplikasi-kencan-online-laris-manis
[ii] Sari, W.P., & Kusuma, R. S. (2018). Presentasi diri dalam kencan online pada situs dan aplikasi setipe dan tinder. MediaTor , 11 (2), 155-164.
[iii] Parisi, L., & Comunello, F. (2020). Dating in the time of “relational filter bubbles”: exploring imaginaries, perceptions and tactics of Italian dating app users. The Communication Review, 23(1), 66-89. doi:10.1080/10714421.2019.1704111
[iv] Barbagallo, C., & Lantero, R. G. (2020, May 12). Dating apps’ darkest secret: Their algorithm. IE HST Rewire Magazine. https://rewire.ie.edu/dating-apps-darkest-secret-algorithm/
[v] Parisi, L., & Comunello, F. (2020). Dating in the time of “relational filter bubbles”: exploring imaginaries, perceptions and tactics of Italian dating app users. The Communication Review, 23(1), 66-89. doi:10.1080/10714421.2019.1704111
[vi] Xia, P., Jiang, H., Wang, X., Chen, C., & Liu, B. (2014, May). Predicting user replying behavior on a large online dating site. In Eighth International AAAI Conference on Weblogs and Social Media.
[vii] Hanai, T. A., & Ghassemi, M. (2016, December 11). Break out of your echo chamber: Technology arranges lunch with someone new. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/break-out-of-your-echo-chamber-technology-arranges-lunch-with-someone-new-69964
[viii] Pasquale, F. (2015). The black box society: The secret algorithms that control money and information. Boston, MA: Harvard University Press.