To swipe or not to swipe: Are dating apps compromising your safety?
If technology has made finding love all too convenient, re-remerging tech tools like AI and ML have put checks in place in the digital dating world. In the process, the control is back to where it belongs - with the users! YS Weekender explores the new trends in the digital dating world…
Let’s call a spade a spade!
1. The gender gap is real, even in the dating space.
2. There are far too many creeps and casual daters online.
3. And even if you find your Mr/Miss Right, it’s hard to take the relationship offline.
Dating in the age of technology is a little complicated but here’s what we discovered…
The dating pool is really limited, with women making up only 26 percent of the total user base in India, according to a survey by the homegrown app Woo. To add to this, the younger lot, aged between 18 and 21, is mostly looking to expand their social network. Of course, if something worthwhile comes out of it, it’s a win-win. And last but not the least, there are some very valid concerns surrounding safety and security when it comes to finding love online.
As the Woo survey indicates, around 70 percent of the female userbase is reluctant to share their personal information on account of the fear of harassment.
But here’s where it gets interesting. If technology has made much too convenient for us, re-emerging tech tools are also putting checks in place in the online dating world, and in the process, giving the controls back to the users. We are talking about match-making algorithms, inclusive platforms, artificial intelligence tools that filter out lewd or inappropriate images, and a human moderator to supports online daters at all times.
Finding love, with data and algorithms
Dating today is a data-heavy affair. In other words, it’s all about answering a multitude of questions and feeding the algorithms with sufficient personal information in order to help the AI find you the right match online. This is a strategy that New York-headquartered dating service provider OkCupid seems to have mastered; its app boasts a machine learning-based algorithm that connects people on deeper subjects and topics.
“OkCupid was founded in 2004 by Harvard mathematicians who believed in the power of questions to lead you to meaningful connections,” says Melissa Hobley, CMO of OkCupid. “There are over 3,000 questions on the app that inform the algorithms to help match our users on the basis of shared interests, values, quirks, and deal-breakers,” she adds.
In the Indian context, this translates into a set of customised questions that are relevant to the users here and that helps them match with people on matters that are relevant to them. And the topics are not confined by cultural, social, demographic factors.
As a result, Melissa explains, creating a profile on OkCupid is quite a time-intensive process, with users needing to answer a minimum of 15 questions.
Brewing an all-inclusive and diverse environment
“Indian users answer 50 questions on an average each week,” says Melissa, highlighting how OkCupid delves into the minute details about an individual.
With questions ranging from topics as serious as politics, elections, and voting to pop-culture fads like Game of Thrones and favourite pizza topping, the dating app takes into account all factors to match like-minded people.
In this context, inclusivity is also an important factor. With milestones such as Supreme Court’s monumental verdict decriminalising homosexuality in September 2018, it has become imperative that individuals from all walks of life, regardless of their sexual orientation and gender preference, be allowed the opportunity to express themselves wholly as they set sail to find love.
Dating apps, interestingly, are taking cognizance of all these changes on their platforms. Take for instance the latest addition from Tinder, which introduces sexual orientations into its signature matching experience.
With the option to express as straight, gay, queer, asexual, bisexual, and demisexual, the idea is to help users share more information about their sexual orientation.
Similarly, OkCupid has introduced a functionality for its users to declare their pronouns on the platform.
“You can select or write your pronoun by going to the respective field on your profile. Pick from he/him, she/her, they/them, or type in any pronoun of your choice. We allow our users to choose from 13 sexual orientations and 22 gender options,” quips Melissa.
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Keep it clean, keep it safe
Comparatively newer to the game but creating waves in the online dating world is American rival, Bumble. A women-first networking and dating app (and the brainchild of Whitney Wolfe Herd, also the co-founder of Tinder), Bumble is pushing the envelope to help users forge friendships and build their professional networks along with swiping right on their potential dates.
In doing so, the platform has taken special care to put women at the forefront as it addresses most of their safety and security concerns.
“As we were doing our strategic research in 2018, we spoke with many early adopters and potential users of Bumble in India,” says Priti Joshi, Global Director of Strategy, Bumble tells YS Weekender. “One of the things we consistently heard from women was the need to feel secure and comfortable when making connections online.”
The global dating service, which forayed into the India market bringing on board Priyanka Chopra as an investor and face of the brand, developed an India-specific feature to allow women using Bumble Date to show only their initials on their profiles.
“When she is ready to share her full name with connections, she can but until then her identity is protected,” explains Priti.
In addition to this, Bumble has also rolled out an AI technology – or what it calls the “Private Detector” – to automatically blur lewd or inappropriate images sent between users while warning them about the image before they open it. The app also has a feature for users to place voice calls or video chats within the Bumble app without exchanging personal contact information.
The idea, as Priti explains, is to let “Bumble users to be able to have as close to a real-life experience as possible on our platform.”
Bridging the gap between online and offline
Whether you are swiping profiles or answering questions, the end goal is pretty simple: to provide the convenience of online dating that can easily translate into a real-life relationship.
While tech tools like AI, ML, and algorithm-driven platforms are making it easier and safer to make meaningful connections on the internet, in the end however, it all boils down to the personal touch. From the first “Hi” to the images you choose to present a slice of your life online, even the most minute detail could play a significant role in taking a relationship ahead.
“We’ve found that if you just say “hi” or “hey” you’re less likely to make a meaningful connection; and let’s be honest - no one wants that,” says Bumble’s Global Director of Strategy. She also cautions against leaving the profile blank. “This is your opportunity to show off your amazing sense of humour and let your next potential match get to know a little bit about you. Everyone loves a funny, unique profile,” Priti adds.
OkCupid’s findings indicate similar trends. In addition to expressing your true self on your profile, their report also highlights the importance of timely decisions. “On OkCupid, we found out that Sunday is the most successful day to plan dates for the week and 5 PM is the time of day most users are on the app,” it suggests.
In the end, it’s all about putting in the time, efforts and showing that you truly care. It’s just as Oprah Winfrey said,
“Mr. Right is coming, but he’s in Africa and he’s walking.”