Well, it appears I wasn’t only one receiving these fake profiles yesterday, the Tinder twitter account has been inundated with similar complaints. Symantec even has a page about it. Tinder is claiming these are “spambots” which is a curious choice of words, since it implies that (although automated) these are regular, albeit fake, profiles being filled out and submitted. A better choice of words would be hacked, since in order to do the kinds of things they are doing, they would need access to other parts of the Tinder system. So while I (guess I) believe Tinder now when they say this isn’t their doing (although it still could have been a test on their part that went awry), it is pretty worrying that all that private customer data is being accessed by whoever is hacking them. It implies, obviously, that their systems are not secure.
I have more than a passing interest in dating apps. This interest stems from a variety of factors. For one, as a web designer and technology buff I am always fasciated by how these things are built, what their interfaces are like, etc. Secondly, having worked on building or designing dating sites myself several years in the past, I remain interested in the current state of the art. Finally (and no doubt most relevant) I am single, and use these apps to meet people.
So it was with great fascination that I came upon Tinder, recommended to me by my friend Ken. I was instantly drawn to and slightly repulsed by the interface, which is pretty damn brilliant. The idea is to see a stack of photos, and quickly (a la hot or not) swipe a profile to the right to signify interest, and to the left to signify no interest. If the other person is also interested, you will both be notified. And if they are not, no one is the wiser, your anonymity (with respect to your interest in them) is maintained. I love it because it is so damn simple, and as an interface it is amazing. I am slightly put off by an element of this same rapid selection process, which is that it reduces to the most superficial minimum (based on a single photo) your (mostly carnal) possible interest in someone. It is possible to click on a photo before deciding and to see a few more details about the person, but not a whole lot.
Of course, one of the great problems with dating apps is verifying people, and Tinder claims to have dealt with this problem by requiring you to link to your facebook profile. In this way, you can see if your matches share any friends, as well as if you share interests (on facebook anyway). One of the other big problems with any dating website or app is the number of available matches. There is always a period early in the app or site’s existence when they don’t have a large enough database of users to keep interest up easily, so promotion and getting new people to join so that there is a critical mass of single people is very important. And when you are subdividing further based on interest, such as with gay people (of which I am one), this problem can be acute.
Solving this critical mass problem takes time. One way NOT to solve it: create fake profiles, which is exactly what Tinder seems to be doing. I started noticing a creepy similarity between many of the profiles I was looking at. They all seemed to be exactly 41 miles away from me (the exact edge of my max distance setting in the preferences) and none of them had friends in common with me on facebook (a somewhat rare occurrence among gays btw), and none of them shared any facebook interests. They all had a single line entry, and many of them had the exact same entry. They were all within a few years range of the lowest range specified in my prefs. I started noticing this, and started taking a few screenshots (click here if you don’t have flash installed to see the album on Google +):
Notice any similarities?
So, I wrote an email to Tinder asking them to explain what was up. I told them that either someone was making lots of fake profiles or they themselves were, in an effort to gin up interest in their app. I consider the likelier of the two scenarios that Tinder themselves is doing it, although I suppose it is possible someone has managed to create a bunch of auto-generated facebook profiles that in turn are mass uploaded to Tinder. I have yet to hear back from them, despite two separate emails asking the same thing. Even if they are not responsible, they have a duty to act quickly to remove these fakes. If you can’t rely on the veracity of profiles, the whole enterprise goes out the window. Or at least the fantasy of meeting someone real on their site does, which means the same thing for their business.