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21 Jan 2022

Tinder's unfair pricing algorithm exposed

Over-30s pay more for Tinder Plus, Which? finds
Illustration showing Tinder users

A Which? investigation has revealed that market-leading dating app Tinder routinely charges over-30s more for its 'Plus' subscription.

UPDATE: Our original analysis also found that Tinder appeared to be hiking prices for young gay and lesbian users aged 18-29. When we shared our findings twice with Tinder in December 2021, it admitted that it offers discounts in 'some geographies' and denied setting different prices based on sexuality, but gave no further details about what drives its pricing algorithm.

Having initially chosen not to provide further information, Tinder has since revealed that it offers discounts to users aged 28 and under in the UK and claimed that by including 29-year-olds in our analysis of the relationship between price with age and sexual orientation, 'the results would be skewed to make it appear that LGBTQAI+ members paid more based upon orientation, when in fact, it was based upon age'.

Tinder told us it has never factored in sexual orientation into its pricing.

Updating our analysis with this new information leaves us with no evidence that sexual orientation impacts pricing for young Tinder users. We have therefore removed reference to it from this piece.

People willingly share their most sensitive data with dating apps in the hope of finding suitable matches, but would they be so casual if they discovered their personal data is being used to set personal prices?

Which? is concerned that big tech firms are collecting vast amounts of digital data to drive highly sophisticated yet obscure algorithms. And the more we give away about ourselves online - often unknowingly - the more we may be offered goods and services skewed by increasingly personal details.

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Tinder's mysterious pricing

Tinder is owned by the Texas-based Match Group, which has become the most dominant player in the market, having hoovered up OkCupid (2011), PlentyofFish (2015) and Hinge (2018). Like most dating apps, Tinder offers its basic service for free but relies on premium subscriptions to make money - a cool $1.4bn in global revenue in 2020.

This is not the first time Tinder has faced price discrimination accusations. In January 2019, it settled a lawsuit in California when it agreed to stop charging users there different prices based on age. But that hasn't stopped it from doing so elsewhere - in 2020, Australian consumer group Choice reported that over-30s in the country were, on average, quoted prices more than double that of younger users.

We knew that Choice saw price variations in Australia driven by age, but with a sample of only 60 mystery shoppers, it couldn't say if other characteristics affected pricing. So when we repeated the investigation in the UK, we increased the number of mystery shoppers to 199, to see if we could get one step closer to solving the mystery of Tinder's pricing.

We asked shoppers to create real profiles and make a note of prices quoted for Tinder Plus, a premium package with perks such as unlimited 'Likes' and 'Rewinds' (the ability to undo accidental selections).

Illustration showing Tinder users
Credit: Sua Balac

How your age affects the cost of Tinder Plus

We found that Tinder is charging UK users wildly different prices for the same service.Across the entire mystery shopping exercise, quotes for a year's access to Tinder Plus ranged from £26.09 to a staggering £116.99, with 20 different prices quoted in total.

Our analysis finds no evidence that sexuality, gender, or location make a difference to pricing. However, the data revealed that 18 to 29-year-olds typically paid less than all other age groups. In our mystery shop, 30 to 49-year-olds were likely to pay 48% more (an average difference of £24) for a 12-month Tinder Plus subscription, while over 50s paid 47% (£23.59) more.

Tinder users are in the dark about its pricing

Tinder's lack of transparency is disappointing.

We found that the full extent of how personalised pricing is applied is not clear on Tinder's app. Its terms and conditions merely state that 'pricing varies by a number of factors' and refer to promotional rates 'which can vary based on region, length of subscription, bundle size and more'. If the 'more' includes personal characteristics, such as age, Tinder is misleading its users.

We put our findings to Tinder in December 2021 and it admitted it does charge younger people less in some countries but denied using other personal characteristics to set prices.

At the time Tinder told us: 'Tinder is free to use and the vast majority of our members enjoy our app without upgrading to the paid experience.'

'However, we do offer a variety of subscription options to help our members stand out and match with new people more efficiently. Tinder operates a global business and, in some geographies, we offer discounted subscriptions to younger members. In addition, we frequently offer promotional rates - which can vary based on factors like location or length of subscription. No other demographic information is considered in our pricing structure.'

Tinder only recently revealed further details on how it sets prices. It told us:

'We have never factored in sexual orientation, gender identity, or any other demographic characteristic to our pricing.

'We offer discounts in some regions, including the UK, for members aged 28 and younger.

'Like other businesses, Tinder also offers promotional rates from time-to-time, which could have impacted the findings.'

Is Tinder breaking the law?

Felicity Robinson, Which? lawyer, says: 'The Equality Act 2010 prohibits behaviour that amounts to less favourable treatment on grounds of certain 'protected characteristics. It is occasionally justifiable under UK equality law to offer age-based price variations for the same product or service, such as discounts to over-65s or students, where it can be shown there is a legitimate basis for this.'

'Tinder acknowledges it offers what it calls 'discounted subscriptions' to its younger members, but it hasn't given us any evidence to justify the price difference between users based on age. The exact scope of availability of these discounts is not clear and is not publicly available on its website.

'Tinder's terms of use and privacy policy refer to processing individuals' data to “deliver and improve” its services, and (among other things), to “help keep [users] safe, and provide [users] with advertising that may be of interest”, but do not expressly mention using personal data to determine what prices it charges users. If it is doing this, as our mystery shopping suggests, users won't have provided explicit consent to this type of processing, making this a possible breach of UK data protection law.'

Which? calls for regulators to step in

Which? has reported its findings to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) calling on them to investigate further.

We will also be sharing the new information recently supplied by Tinder.

Rocio Concha, Which? director of policy and advocacy, said: 'Our research uncovered concerning evidence that people using Tinder could unknowingly be facing higher charges because of their age.

'This suggests unfair price discrimination and potentially unlawful processing of personal data.

'We are calling for the EHRC and the ICO to investigate this issue further. If regulators decide that Tinder's personalised pricing is breaking the law then the dating app giant must face strong action.'

A spokesperson for the Equality and Human Rights Commission said: 'As Britain's equality regulator it is our job to protect, uphold and enforce equality laws. We take reports of discrimination very seriously.

'This report of potential discrimination by Tinder is concerning. We will consider these findings by Which? and respond in due course.'

This story has changed since it was first published. Details of what has changed are featured at the top of this piece and have been clarified throughout.