A new £5,000 feature introduced by Tinder which enables users to pay extra money to contact people they haven’t matched with could ramp up abuse and harassment of women, campaigners have warned.
Fears have been raised that the dating app’s “ultra-premium” Tinder Select function, which costs £4,925 per year, prioritises profit over the safety of women and could even enable domestic abusers to stalk ex-partners.
The “VIP” feature enables subscribers to get in contact with people they have not matched with for the first time in the app’s history. It will only be available to less than one per cent of users, with the app stating only “extremely active” members will be asked to join.
Janaya Walker, of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, told The Independent: “This feature points to what we see as a wider pattern as tech platforms prioritise profit above women and girls’ safety.
“We’re concerned this feature could increase harassment and abuse of women on dating apps, which is already a huge issue, and could potentially be exploited by perpetrators of domestic abuse, enabling them to find new communication channels with women.”
Ms Walker said she is keen to see firms “take gender-based violence into consideration when designing new features such as these”, adding that it is what campaign groups are pushing for with the Online Safety Bill.
She added: “It’s down to the government to make sure this guidance is robust and enforced if it is to make a real difference.”
Users who subscribe to Tinder Select will also have their profiles shown to the dating app’s “most sought-after” members. Tinder members who are asked to apply must provide a verified photo, alongside at least four images, as well as a biography, five interests and information about the kind of relationship they are seeking.
Seyi Akiwowo, founder and chief executive of Glitch, an anti-online abuse charity, said: “Tinder Select is certainly a cause for concern. The abuse that’s enabled through dating apps reflects a broader, socially-sanctioned and unrelenting power imbalance that leaves women around the world pursued, harassed and violated daily.”
Ms Akiwowo called for firms to be held “accountable for the decisions they consciously and continuously make to leave so many of us vulnerable to hate, abuse and violence – online and off”.
She added: “Enabling users to pay for access to the profiles of others is embedding a lack of consent, and presents very real risks in terms of stalking, domestic abuse and online abuse more broadly.”
Kimberly Anderson, a dating expert living in Paris, told The Independent about a man she encountered on the dating app Bumble, who sent her unsolicited photos of his penis soon after they began messaging.
The 52-year-old added: “He was pretty decent looking. He worked for a well-known perfume company, he had pictures of him in nice sports cars and travelling with his son. He looked well dressed. The conversation started quite smoothly. We both said we wanted to see someone regularly.
“It was the first or second day of texting and he sent me dick pics, which was really surprising for me. I didn’t ask for it. I was horrified. I said I’m not interested in you and I’m not interested in continuing this and I blocked his number on WhatsApp.”
Ms Anderson, who is from the US originally, recalled how his friend contacted her a month later out of the blue explaining he had got her number from him.
“He said do you want to go out?” she added. “The handing to the friend was really strange – it was almost like I was a commodity. It felt invasive. I was shocked and surprised. I told the friend never to contact me again and I was not to have my number passed around people.”
She explained the man who had sent her the photos of his penis tracked her down on Instagram but she removed him from her followers and blocked him.
“When I realised, I thought, oh my god, I don’t want him seeing my personal life,” she added. “I felt uneasy and I felt uncomfortable. I felt he’d gone too far and there was an invasion of boundaries and privacies.”
A representative for Tinder said: “Tinder users can opt out of receiving messages from Tinder Select members before matching via their settings. Tinder’s ‘block contact’ feature enables users to input contacts of anyone they know that they do not want to be seen by on Tinder. Users can block a profile at any point.”