Course:LIBR559M/Hooking Up/Getting Down: The Controversies Surrounding Dating Apps

From UBC Wiki
Hooking Up/Getting Down:

The Controversies Surrounding Dating Apps


Social Media for Information Professionals

January 26, 2015
Ashley Kilian

Robin Belcher Paige Stewart

Stefania Alexandru


Online dating has become increasingly popular and more widely accepted. Over half of all internet users agree that online dating is a good way to meet people and allows one to find a better match.[1] Despite these positive attitudes, negative stories surrounding popular mobile dating apps and websites are prevalent in the popular media. This wiki introduces four dating (or hook up) apps:

What are Dating Apps?

The evolution of online dating has followed a similar path to that of other social networking sites. Networks are moving away from websites towards mobile apps. Traditional dating sites (like,, and are now supplemented by apps. Some dating sites function primarily, or solely, through a mobile app.[2] Some important definitions to keep in mind when thinking about the controversies surrounding dating apps include:

Online Dating: "The practice of searching for a romantic or sexual partner on the Internet, typically via a dedicated website."[3] This definition has not caught up to reflect the change in the online dating scene. Therefore, separate terminology should be used for mobile dating.

Mobile Dating: "Social networking via a mobile community, application or web site for the purpose of dating."[4] The focus of mobile dating is the use of applications through smartphones or other mobile devices.

Geolocation: "...the process of finding, determining and providing the exact location of a computer, networking device or equipment. It enables device location based on geographical coordinates and measurements. Geolocation commonly uses Global Positioning System (GPS) and other related technologies to assess and specify geographical locations."[5] By using mobile devices that have GPS capabilities, mobile daters can locate other users in their area. This is especially important when hooking up rather than dating.

Dating: "An engagement to go out socially with another person, often out of romantic interest."[6] Dating involves people getting to know one another through social interaction with the hopes of future interactions. Though dating may lead to a sexual encounter, it is not the expressed intent.

Hooking Up: It is difficult to define hooking up because the term is ambiguous. For some it is simply the act of kissing for others it means casual sexual intercourse. There is generally no consensus about what is actually involved in a "hook up." For most, it is distinct from dating in that it is "...between two people who are not dating or in a serious relationship and do not expect anything further.”[7]


Tinder logo

A new kid on the dating app block, Tinder was launched in 2012[8], and uses geolocation technology to match users based largely on their geographic information.


Tinder draws on Facebook’s social graph data, specifically geographic location, interests, and friend lists to match users. Users then anonymously swipe right if they like someone or left if they don’t, and when two users express mutual interest, Tinder allows them to chat directly. In June 2014, Tinder introduced Moments, a feature that enables users to share photos with potential matches, with the caveat that the latter can view the photos for 24 hours.[9] In November 2014, Tinder announced the launch of several premium features including an undo button for those who changed their mind about a left swipe, a travel features that allows users to swipe profiles in locations other than their own, and Tinder Places, where users are matched based on locations they frequent, like museums or parks.[10] Tinder boasts over 10 million users[11] and caters to users looking to connect with others who are in geographical proximity.


Racial politics of online dating

While users state that racial preference is not an important factor in their online dating activities, research into online dating behaviour indicates otherwise: attitudes toward interracial relationships are increasingly liberal but users’ actions do not follow.[12] A recent US study found that “willingness to date intra-racially was generally high and that willingness to date inter-racially was lower and influenced by racial social status.”[13]

Trouble at the plant

In June 2014, Whitney Wolfe, a co-founder and former vice-president of marketing at Tinder, filed a sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit against the company and Tinder's parent company, IAC, alleging that Justin Mateen, Tinder's chief marketing officer, sexually harassed her and that both CEO Sean Rad and his corporate supervisor, IAC’s Sam Yagan, did nothing to stop it.[14]

The lawsuit was settled in September 2014, reportedly for $1 million, without any admission of wrongdoing on the part of Tinder and IAC.[15]


OkCupid logo

OkCupid, also known playfully as “Oh Gay Cupid,” or “OkStupid,” is a free online dating platform, launched in March of 2004, that allows users multiple ways to search for friends, dates or sexual encounters. Although OkCupid is a free online dating service, since August 2009, users have been given the option to purchase an “A-List” membership, which affords the user new features like browsing invisibly, knowing which users have “liked them,” among other upgrades.


Users may browse matches using Quickmatch, a Tinder-like interface where drag the image left or right—left denotes a “pass,” while right means you “like” your match. Alternatively, users may browse for matches using the Browse Matches function. Here, users may search for matches by gender, sexual preference, age, location, when a user was last online, or by A-List (paid) browsing. A-List users can browse, additionally, by categories like attractiveness or body type.

OkCupid is accessible using all up-to-date Internet browsers, as well as on mobile devices. OkCupid’s mobile app is available in both Apple’s App Store and Google Play.

Active since 2004, OkCupid has served users of all sexual orientations, making a name for itself among gay and lesbian users. Until 2014, however, OkCupid listed only three sexual orientations: straight, gay, or bisexual, forcing users who identified elsewhere on the sexual orientation spectrum to choose a prescribed orientation that suited them best. Since 2014, OkCupid has updated their orientations, now listing asexual, demisexual, heteroflexible, homoflexible, pansexual, queer, questioning and sapiosexual.

With the addition of new sexual orientation choices came additional gender options, now including: agender, androgynous, bigender, cis man, cis woman, genderfluid, genderqueer, gender nonconforming, hijra, intersex, non-binary, other, pangender, transfeminine, transgender, transmasculine, transsexual, trans man, trans woman, and two spirit.[16]



OkCupid’s blog, OkTrends, explores data and statistical information about OkCupid’s users. Having received complaints from users, Christian Rudder, one of OkCupid’s creators and researchers, prefaces the blog, saying, “... if you use the Internet, you’re the subject of hundreds of experiments at any given time, on every site. That’s how websites work.”[17]


In 2014, after hearing news that Brendan Eich, Firefox’s CEO at the time, supported Proposition 8[18], OkCupid users who used Firefox were prompted with a message asking them to consider switching browsers. That message was removed two days after being posted, on April 2, 2014.[19]


Grindr logo

Grindr, founded in March of 2009, is the largest all-male social network/dating app. Men are able to locate other men via geolocation. In fact, Grindr uses the slogan "0 feet away," meaning that your next date/hook up could be right next to you.[20]


The app is available in over 190 countries and boasts over 5 million members. It is available through Apple iOS, Android, and Blackberry OS. The app is downloaded directly onto a mobile device and then a profile is created. A profile can include a picture (recommended) and/or a username.[21] A series of (optional) categories can be filled in: Age, Height, Weight, Body Type, Ethnicity, Looking For, Relationship Status, etc.

The app shows a panel of pictures based upon users who are nearest. Tapping on a profile (picture) gives the options to see the user profile, and if one has been created, chat options, send pictures, and share locations.

Like OKCupid, Grindr offers an advertisement-free subscription service Grindr Extra. This service allows one to block an unlimited number of users and to swipe quickly through profiles.

In 2012, Grindr launched Grindr for Equality, an initiative that uses the geolocation software built into Grindr to send targeted messages to users about LGBT community events. "...Grindr for Equality will enable our users to put the Grindr platform to use for the greater good."[22]


User Security

Grindr’s programming and resulting security flaws have come under fire. Although there are complaints of messages being dropped and other technology glitches, the primary concerns surround user data being leaked. In 2014 it was discovered that the geolocation of Grindr could be exploited by third parties to accurately locate users.[23] This was especially concerning for the LGBT community in countries where homosexuality is a punishable offense. Due to safety concerns Grindr has disabled the Distance From User feature.[24]

Offensive Language

Grindr has been criticized for allowing offensive speech. Although Grindr polices profiles for language that violates its policy guidelines, it does not remove terminology that it claims are related to sexual preference. Some examples include “No Asian” or “No Indian.” Grindr allows food categories in reference to race: no chocolate, no curry, no rice, etc.[25]


Bang With Friends logo
Down logo

Launched in January 2013, Down (formerly known as Bang With Friends) is a dating app that allows Facebook users to connect sexually with their Facebook friends and friends of friends.

Bang With Friends spiked in popularity in the spring of 2013 shortly after it was released on the market but swiftly came under attack from Zynga, the owner of the “With Friends” trademark. Bang With Friends re-entered the market as Down later in 2013 after it settled the trademark infringement lawsuit filed by Zynga.[26]


Down works by allowing you to see your friends and friends of friends and selecting if you want to Get Down or Get Date. If the person you selected reciprocates that they want to Get Down or Get Date with you then your mutual desire will be revealed. Additionally, the app incorporates a "hotness score" that is "based on what percentage of people who see you dig into your profile or say they’re interested."[27] Users can also view their own hotness score and see how they stack up against their friends.

One of the largest changes Bang With Friends made when the app re-emerged as Down was the addition of friends of friends to the app's pool of potential dates and hook ups.

By rebranding Bang With Friends (which was revealed to be populated by a male majority in the privacy breach of spring 2013), Down is hoping to recruit more female members and denounce accusations of sexism their app previously received. Down's rebranding attempts to give the app an air of approval ("I'm down with it"), a more ambiguous name while avoiding the sexually charged "Bang" (Down meaning Down to Bang) and avoiding the app's previous sex-heavy branding (see instructional image below and Bang With Friends logo at right). [28]

In early 2014, Down aimed to revive the anonymous love letter by providing users with the option to send anonymous messages. In an attempt to avoid harassment of users, Down limited the number of times a user can message their person of interest. However, "the app was processing approximately four dick pics an hour" after beginning the trial of the new anonymous messaging feature.[29]

Bang With Friends instructions



"At the peak of its hype in the spring of 2013, a way to see which of your friends had installed the supposedly anonymous app surfaced."[30] This social disaster was the result of an oversight concerning the default privacy settings on Facebook by the makers of Bang With Friends who claimed to have created the app in two hours fueled by vodka and Red Bull.[31].

"Despite claims that [Down is] anonymous, private, and discreet, it’s not really. As a general principle, anything that involves signing up with your Facebook account doesn’t usually fall into those three categories."[32]

Facebook Friends as Sexual Partners

The overwhelming criticism of Down (even featured on Forbes' "Terrible App Idea of the Week[33] stems not only from the app's privacy slip-up but from the context in which the app operates, that is Facebook, its sexually-charged theme in the context of Facebook friend groups, and its lack of appropriate functionality (one user, a writer for BuzzFeed, was matched with her brother[34]). While some of these issues have since been corrected or addressed by the app's developers, Down still sexualizes one's Facebook friends, a tactic that has received a primarily negative response.[35]


The widespread usage of dating apps and the increasing number of users reflect the changing landscape of courtship, and the new ways of connecting with others for the purpose of dating and/or sex.

As dating apps continue to grow their user base, the availability of rich user data will become a necessary cog to drive the monetization machine. Television networks have already advertised an episode of The Mindy Project to Tinder users and Domino’s has incorporated Tinder into its social media strategy by running in-app contests.[36]

While dating apps provide a legitimate added value of connecting faster with potential partners, they are often parodied in mass media, as in the following video starring Conan O'Brien and Dave Franco:


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