Tinder warns lgbtq travelers: one step back

The dating app wants to protect travelers of its LGBTQ community. To this end, it hides the profiles of those who are in dangerous countries.

New alert function on Tinder: the app wants to protect LGBTQ travelers – by hiding them Photo: dpa

In 2019, LGBTQ people still face imprisonment, torture and public violence in too many countries around the world because of their sexuality. The dating app Tinder wants to protect the users* of its LGBTQ community from these dangers and has developed a system: The app hides the affected profiles.

Tinder, on the market since 2012, follows a simple system. Users can select users they are interested in based on profile and location information, preferences, and photos. If a match is made, the app establishes contact. Business is booming, and it feels like everyone is tindering. The dating platform, which is operated from Los Angeles, now has users in over 190 countries, making it a global success.

Back to the supposed protection system: profiles of users for whom their sexuality poses a risk while traveling are automatically hidden by the app. Tinder contacts those affected via a pop-up message. They receive a "Traveler Alert," as the app calls it. "Judging by your location, you are in a place where the LGBTQ community can be punished. We want you to have fun, but your safety is our number one priority."

This text will appear on cell phones in the future whenever the app locates the GPS of its users in one of the 70 countries the company considers dangerous, including Saudi Arabia, Iran and Egypt. A card from the ILGA World association, with which Tinder cooperates, provides information about the danger status. This is followed by the advice to exercise particular caution when meeting new people. A link attached to the declaration then takes users to an information page. Here the user is informed about the situation in the country.

Sexual orientation remains hidden

From this point, users can then decide: Should their profile remain invisible for the duration of their stay, or should it be unlocked again – against Tinder’s advice? The crux: If the user does not want to be hidden and makes her profile public again, the sexual orientation remains hidden for the entire time of the further stay. The same applies to the information on gender and identity – whether this is intended or not.

The dating app is always deliberately open to the LGBTQ community. Just last week, Tinder drew attention to itself with a colorful "Pride Slide" in New York. Pictures of the giant rainbow slide went viral on the web. Was it all just a marketing strategy?

If so, it was more than successful. US media show beaming faces on the giant slide and praise the app for its efforts. "Discrimination in any form violates Tinder’s fundamental values. We believe in equality, and by calling on our millions of users to show their support and take action, we hope to contribute to real change for the LGBTQ+ community," Tinder CEO Elie Seidman publicly commented on the campaign.

On the day of the rainbow slide, Tinder released the English-language public statement on its blog about the "Traveler Alert." This is probably not a coincidence. The company is colorful and cosmopolitan, and there’s really nothing wrong with that. After all, colorful is always good.

If users are on a backpacker tour in different countries where they are in danger because of their gender identity or sexual orientation and they forget to turn off their GPS, their location would theoretically be visible on Tinder – even to the wrong people. The fact that the app intervenes here with the new system to protect users – especially those without much travel experience – from possible dangers is commendable.

But losing the power to decide whether and how users communicate their sexual orientation doesn’t seem to fit in with today’s times, nor with Tinder’s values. So why is the company resorting to such a measure? Perhaps this serves, if nothing else, to keep the platform out of the line of fire in the event of any encroachments.

A backward signal

Tinder says of itself, "We believe everyone has the right to live the way they want to live and love who they want to love." Through the alert system, they want to make sure that no person is put in danger unimagined, simply by being who they are, they say. Tinder seems to celebrate love – and everything in its path. The platform pretends to be open-minded.

The decision to hide sexual orientation without the consent of users* in certain countries contradicts this image. A submission in the wrong direction – even if the danger in the countries concerned is by no means to be relativized. It is a backward signal that does not seem to fit the app’s appearance. Tinder should instead take the opposite approach, as it has long done at other points, and support the fight for greater security in the countries concerned, advocating freedom rather than hiding.