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Tinder’s unfair pricing algorithm exposed

Online dating is tough — and potentially costly, depending on your age or sexual orientation.

Gay and lesbian people, as well as people over the age of 30, have to cough up significantly more to use the premium features of dating app Tinder, according to a study by British consumer group Which?

Tinder, which has surged in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic, charges for additional functionality, such as giving users an unlimited number of likes, or letting them match with people located in other countries.

The consumer group used almost 200 mystery shoppers to create profiles on the dating app. On average, gay and lesbian users were asked to pay over 10 percent more than bisexual users, and over 8 percent more than heterosexual users for the premium service. Younger gay and lesbian users aged between 18 and 29 paid 37 percent more than their heterosexual peers and 30 percent more than bisexual users.

Older users were also asked to pay more. Users aged 30 to 49 paid 48 percent more than younger users, while those over 50 faced a 46-percent-higher bill.

The study did not find price differences between genders or users living in rural or urban locations.

“In the U.K. it’s illegal to charge someone of one sexual preference different amounts to someone with a different sexual preference. We were very surprised to find that it does suggest possible discrimination and a potential breach of U.K. law by Tinder,” said Katie Alpin, head of strategic insight at Which?

The findings of Which? “show a clear pattern and the effects are big enough to make real-world differences to consumers using the app,” Alpin continued.
Opaque algorithms

Which? accuses Tinder of using opaque and unpredictable algorithms, and not letting users provide explicit consent to their data being processed in this way.

The consumer group has filed a complaint to the Information Commissioner’s Office and the Equalities and Human Rights Commission to investigate further.

“Organisations must use personal data lawfully, fairly and transparently. That means organisations must only use people’s data in ways they would reasonably expect, and be clear with people about why they need their personal data and what they will do with it,” a spokesperson for the ICO said in a statement. The authority has said it has received Which?’s report and will “assess the information provided.”

A spokesperson for Tinder said Which?’s claims that the company’s pricing structure discriminates by sexual orientation are “categorically untrue.”In a blog post, Tinder called Which?’s research ”deeply flawed” and criticized the study’s methodology. The company also said it offers discounts for users aged 28 and younger.

Tinder has faced fire from consumer groups before. In 2019 it settled a class-action lawsuit in California for charging users aged 30 and over double the standard premium fee. The company pledged to stop the pricing practice in California, but not elsewhere. In 2020, Australian consumer group Choice found that over-30s were charged more than double that of younger users.

“We need firms to face up to the fact that if you’re using complicated pricing algorithms, you need to be ready to defend those. The important thing is that we have a system where firms can be held accountable when their pricing practices result in unfairness and potentially unlawful practices,” Alpin said.

Alpin said Which? is also concerned about similar practices that are happening in the insurance market.

“These kinds of pricing practices are potentially going to be a bigger issue going forward as more and more companies choose to use complicated forms of personalized pricing,” she continued.