Tinder, with its data-driven approach to romance, has always had a slightly creepy feel — it’s basically just a game to win, after all. But now, with a new feature called Smart Photos, the app has gone one step further in turning its users into human guinea pigs whose every swipe is catalogued and carefully tracked.
Tinder announced Smart Photos in a blog post this morning. In essence, it’s a toggle-on, toggle-off algorithm that switches up the photos on your profile to put the most popular ones first. It “continuously tests your profile photos for their success”, which theoretically means that right swipe-worthy photos will come up more often.
But it also considers a user’s “individual swiping pattern” — basically the sad, 21st century equivalent of a fingerprint — so if your profile pops up for someone who always swipes left on people wearing hats, that sweet photo of you in your beanie probably won’t come up first for them.
If this sounds like a bizarro Philip K. Dickian universe in which users are subjected to A/B testing, well, it basically is. (The developers behind the algorithm even bring it up in a blog post.) The idea of automatically selecting your “best” photos on a dating app isn’t an inherently terrible idea — thumbs up for anything that helps get us all laid — but the idea of tracking someone’s “individual swiping pattern” is creepy as hell.
Then again, Tinder is in the business of tracking and cataloguing data. It records a lot of other things, like location, age, gender, Facebook friends, Instagram feeds, and bad Spotify preferences. It’s never said precisely how its algorithm works, and what kinds of things it takes into account in order to serve up the profiles its users see while drunk and bored in a dark bar. It’s possible it was doing this sort of A/B testing before. (We’ve reached out to clarify.) Implementing something like Smart Photos isn’t exactly a surprising move, then. It’s just another way for Tinder to use data in order to improve user experience.
It’s still disconcerting, however. Yes, yes, I know: companies everywhere are tracking our every move and carefully watching what we click and when we swipe. But that doesn’t make me feel much better about the fact that a dating app knows I always swipe right on people holding cats — and it’s touting it as a game-changing feature.