Jeffrey Tinsley is Founder & CEO of MyLife.com, which helps individuals protect themselves online.
As technology advances, we continue to use these innovations to make our lives better, and that includes how we find love. Today, around 50.2 percent of the U.S. population is single — that's over 124 million people. This higher rate of singles has many people pointing the finger at online dating for making love obsolete. But online dating apps empower singles to find what they're looking for, whether that be a relationship, a casual hookup, or marriage.
Digital courtship exploded after the release of the first iPhone in 2007 and has since become a multi-billion dollar industry, but it's been around for a while. Match.com laid the groundwork as the first online dating site in 1995, followed by eHarmony in 2000. As the online dating industry grew, more apps came on the scene. There was OkCupid in 2004, Grindr in 2009, Tinder in 2012, and then Bumble in 2014 — and these are just a few of the available online dating apps.
Three-in-ten adults actively use one or more of these platforms, sometimes up to ten hours a week. Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, online dating apps have not only seen a surge in signups, but an increase in user activity as well. These apps may seem pretty straightforward, but they're anything but simplistic. Users look to online dating apps to be their modern matchmakers, but it takes advanced technology like location-tracking and complex algorithms to do this, and do it well.
However, users still want an even more personalized experience, which requires even more sophisticated technology. By 2040, 70 percent of couples are expected to meet online. What are dating apps doing to heighten compatibility?
Will we have digital assistants filtering out potential matches for us? Will virtual reality be the first-dates of the future? Will our phones assign compatibility percentages to other singles in close proximity to us? These dating scenarios sound like Black Mirror episodes, but they're closer to reality than you might think.
People don't always know what they want in a match, so innovations like artificial intelligence could help solve for that uncertainty. Machine-learning can monitor what profiles you look at and for how long, it can decipher the contents of your chats, and it can even analyze patterns in how you swipe. As AI becomes more advanced, it can even track your behaviors outside of your dating apps, like overseeing what websites you frequent, the kinds of articles you read, what Netflix shows you binge-watch, and also inspect images on your camera roll. All of this data will be used to improve your matches.
There's AIMM, a voice-activated matchmaking service that interviews you and uses your answers to better customize your matches. Before you agree to talk to anyone, this bot will recite their personal information to you so you can decide if they're worth pursuing further. Then there's Badoo's Lookalike feature, which pairs you with people who look like your favorite celebrity doppelgangers.
Badoo, Bumble, and other online dating apps have begun implementing video features on their apps as well. Tinder recently launched a Loops feature that allows users to add two-second looping videos to their dating profiles after feedback that a still image doesn't always adequately portray someone's personality.
These technological advancements help online dating apps become better matchmakers, but it leaves people wondering whether these apps are doing anything to make sure they're even more protected against false profiles, scammers, and predators.
There have always been concerns about online dating safety, and for good reasons. What exactly are online dating apps doing to ensure the safety of their users? An editor at Quartz wondered the same thing, and later published an investigation into the safety of some of the most popular online dating apps singles use today. What they found was initially concerning.
Grindr has a "safety tips" page, but it's buried somewhere in their Help Center and only accessible to users who are actively looking for it. Tinder also has a "dating safety tips" page, which also requires that users do some digging to uncover it on their website. A majority of sites encourage users to report inappropriate or aggressive behavior, and OkCupid even employs a support staff that monitors accounts for false profiles, scams, and abuse. While offering tips for safe dating is helpful, and flagging and banning dangerous accounts eliminates the chance of repeated behavior, is it enough?
Some companies remain complacent, even silent, but others have stepped up to begin addressing how they can better ensure user safety.
Tinder's Traveller Alert feature protects their LGBTQ+ users by alerting them when they are in a country that has discriminatory LGBTQ+ laws. They have the option to temporarily hide their sexual orientation or gender identity on their profiles so they can't become the targets of government agencies or individuals. They are also adding a panic button that, when triggered, will alert emergency services of a user's location and personal information in case they're in danger and can't call 911.
Other organizations are also inciting action where other online dating apps won't. The University of Warwick is designing AI technology that can scan dating sites for fraudsters and scammers and alert other users of their presence. My company, MyLife.com, generates Reputation Profiles with Reputation Scores that helps users uncover important information like criminal and civil court records, links to their social URLs, and photos before they decide if it's safe to meet with someone they met online. Additionally, Truly.am uses facial recognition that helps users verify whether the person they're talking to is actually who they say they are.
Is online dating safer today than it was decades ago? Yes, but not by much. The industry still has a long way to go. With online dating apps working on initiatives that better protect their users, and other platforms working in conjunction with dating apps to help users verify the authenticity and trustworthiness of another person's dating profile, we're well on our way to a safer future.