Facing declining market value and appeal to Gen Z, Match Group, Grindr, Bumble, others, rush to compromise privacy, sell data, gamify, and integrate AI


(TUESDAY, APRIL 23, 2024) — Just as dating apps like Tinder and Bumble are epically failing to win over Gen Z, they are getting thirstier for user data, according to Mozilla's latest *Privacy Not Included research. The guide slapped 22 popular online dating platforms with warning labels for failing to meet privacy and security standards.

With millennials married off, Gen Z — younger, poorer, more tech-savvy, and less prone to casual sex — are now the primary users for dating apps, and their disenchantment has caused a $40 billion dip in market shares since 2021. To recapture the glory days, dating apps are changing up leadership, experimenting with new features and subscription models, integrating AI, diversifying income streams, and gamifying apps to make them more addictive.

Oh, and siphoning off ever more data while slacking on security.

Over 90% of the dating apps reviewed — like Tinder, Bumble, Scruff, Her, OKCupid, and Facebook Dating — received the *Privacy Not Included warning label from Mozilla researchers, a privacy nosedive since their last review in 2021. Most dating apps (80%) share or sell your personal information and won’t guarantee all users the right to delete their data. For example, Match Group — who owns over 40 different dating apps — says they may “share information about you with our affiliates and they may share information about you with us” for reasons including marketing and advertising.

Says Zoë MacDonald, Mozilla researcher, and writer with *Privacy Not Included: "If dating apps think people are going to keep handing over their most intimate data — basically, everything but their mother’s maiden name — without finding love, they're underestimating their users. Their predatory privacy practices are a dealbreaker."

Dating apps' predatory privacy practices are a dealbreaker.

Zoë MacDonald, *Privacy Not Included

The majority of apps studied also collect users’ geolocation by default unless they opt-out. Other apps like Hinge, Tinder, OKCupid, Match, Plenty of Fish, BLK, and BlackPeopleMeet adamantly insist on accessing users' precise geo-location data, and can still collect this data whether someone is using the app or not. For example, Hinge’s privacy policies states: “The collection of your geolocation may occur in the background even when you aren't using the services if the permission you gave us expressly permits such collection. If you decline permission for us to collect your precise geolocation, we will not collect it, and our services that rely on precise geolocation may not be available to you." This real-time geo-tracked data can be leaked and sold, leaving billions of users extremely vulnerable to security risks.

That’s exactly what happened in 2022 when a Wall Street Journal investigation revealed that a Catholic group purchased Grindr, Scruff, and OKCupid user data collected from a digital advertising network — and were able to obtain information that led to the outing of a priest. Despite this data breach, Grindr and Scruff have seemingly not taken adequate measures to safeguard users' location data, with both platforms stating in their privacy policies that other users may be able to determine people’s precise location.

At the same time, dating apps are getting hungrier for personal information, encouraging building a detailed profile to give potential matches a glimpse into their interests, hobbies, worldviews, sexual orientation, and religious and political beliefs — all crucial data that maps a person’s identity. Christian Mingle, JDate, Elite Singles, and Zoosk say they can collect information about your “sexual life experiences,” while eHarmony’s 80-question Compatibility Quiz promises to give the app a “near complete picture of who you are.”

Now, let’s slide into the DMs. According to Match Group, private direct conversations may be reviewed by humans as part of "Safe Message Filters" moderation, and this exercise is used to evaluate, train, or improve functionality of their automated tools. Match Group, however, does not disclose how exactly these private messages are used to improve product features. Match Group is also under scrutiny following a lawsuit claiming Tinder, Hinge, and other platforms the company owns capitalize on addictive designs.

But it doesn’t stop there: More information can be aggregated automatically from your content, device, from third parties, and social media like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. Apps like Facebook Dating and CoffeeMeetsBagel can collect metadata information from the content users share, including information like when and where pictures and videos were taken.

In addition to addictive design patterns, and collecting behemoth amounts of data, dating apps are also integrating generative AI into their platforms. Grindr, for instance, plans to use direct messages data to train and develop an AI sex chatbot to engage with users. Grindr has yet to update its privacy policy to reflect this new move to AI, so we are yet unable to evaluate how good or bad it might be for users’ privacy. Tinder, OkCupid, Facebook Dating, Happn, CoffeeMeetsBagel, and Tantan use AI to boost the chances of better matches — and the probability that disenchanted Gen Zers will stay and pay for these apps. AI and romance are getting too close for comfort, and when used to make matches or to chat with potential daters, they could propagate sexual racism or fatphobia. In February, Mozilla researchers revealed the murky AI romantic chatbot privacy policies that enabled companies to collect volumes of highly intimate data.

But it’s not all bad news: several dating platforms like Bumble, Lovoo, and Tinder are also leveraging AI to advance the safety features of their users. Bumble’s open-souce AI Private Detector (2019) and Deception Detector (2024) help users block spammy and scam content, while Tinder auto generates warning prompts on content that’s against community guidelines like (“Does this bother you?” and “Are you sure?”).

Says Misha Rykov, Mozilla privacy researcher: “To forge stronger matches users have to write compelling profiles, fill out numerous interest and personality surveys, charm matches, share pictures and videos — the whole experience is heavily dependent on how much information people share. By this virtue, dating apps must protect this data from exploitation.”


About *Privacy Not Included
*Privacy Not Included is a buyers’ guide focused on privacy rather than price or performance. Launched in 2017, the guide has reviewed hundreds of products and apps. It arms shoppers with the information they need to protect the privacy of their friends and family, while also spurring the tech industry to do more to safeguard consumers.