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23 Jan, 2020 17:02

Swipe left on Big Brother? Tinder adds user-tracking ‘panic button,’ because there’s always a predator somewhere

Swipe left on Big Brother? Tinder adds user-tracking ‘panic button,’ because there’s always a predator somewhere

Dating app Tinder has added a ‘panic button’ feature that tracks the user through a ‘date’ and allows them to surreptitiously notify authorities if they’re in trouble. The company insists users are fine with the loss of privacy.

The precision location tracking feature lets Tinder users store details about their dates and their planned itinerary so that authorities can be quickly and comprehensively notified at the touch of a button should anything go awry. Triggering the panic button results in a text from Noonlight, the company behind the technology. If the user doesn’t respond with reassurance that all is well, the emergency services are alerted.

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Mandy Ginsberg, CEO of Tinder parent Match Group, insists users are fine with sacrificing their privacy for a nebulous promise of safety. “You are opting in to make sure people can help you if you are in need,” she told the Wall Street Journal on Thursday, denying the location data would be used for marketing “or anything else.” However, she also claimed the location data will stay with Noonlight, not Match, absolving the latter from responsibility for its ultimate uses.

Match has sunk a considerable investment into Noonlight in advance of rolling it out across Tinder at the end of the month, soon to be followed by its other online dating brands. A press release didn’t give an exact dollar amount, but Match now has a seat on Noonlight’s board. The feature does not appear to be optional, though users presumably will be able to decide whether to activate it ahead of a date if they want to start logging information about the other person.

Ginsberg also laughs off the possibility of “false alarms” sending police to interfere with a date that hasn’t degenerated into rank predation. “If someone doesn’t respond, worst case someone shows up and knocks on the door. It’s not the worst thing in the world,” she said, apparently unaware that police showing up to what they believe to be a rape or murder in process are unlikely to take “no” for an answer, even when a sheepish couple tells them to go home.

The Noonlight tracker is one of several “safety” measures Tinder is rolling out that would be a bonanza in the hands of any surveillance state. A new photo verification feature adds a blue checkmark to profiles whose users can upload in real time a selfie matching a random pose requested by the app. Given the online-dating cliche in which the real-life user has 60 pounds and 20 years on the photo, this feature is sure to be popular. Another feature flags “potentially offensive” messages and asks the user if they’re offended, seemingly little more than a cheap way to train a ‘civility-police’ AI.

Tinder has over 50 million users globally, making it one of the most popular dating apps in existence. A study conducted earlier this month by Norwegian consumer advocate Forbrukerradet found Tinder to be a virtual sieve for sensitive customer data. The app circulates personal information among 45 Match Group brands and third-party advertisers without asking or notifying the user outside of the privacy policy they agree to upon signing up for the service, in a way Forbrukerradet alleged runs afoul of European GDPR privacy law.

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Emergency services are becoming big business, with companies like Carbyne911 and Capita Secure Solutions competing to bring 20th century urgent-dispatch systems into the digital age of data oversharing by inflating fears of mass shootings, terrorism, and now rape. While online dating no doubt has its predators, it’s not clear how reducing the process of summoning the authorities from three buttons, 911, to a single panic button is worth the trade-off of having yet another faceless tech company monitoring one’s comings and goings.

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