The Dating Brokers: An Autopsy of Online Love

Tinder, Grinder, Happn, OkCupid ...For the millions of people who use online dating platforms, potential dates, hook-ups or even love are now just a click or a swipe away. The question is: At what cost? The data we give away might seem like a small price to pay for the possibility of finding love, but what is happening in the background? How data is collected, analysed, sold, traded or reused might be more complicated than we think.

In May 2017, Tactical Tech and artist Joana Moll purchased 1 million online dating profiles for 136€ from USDate, a supposedly US-based company that trades in dating profiles from all over the globe. The batch of dating profiles we purchased included pictures (almost 5 million of them), usernames, e-mail addresses, nationality, gender, age and detailed personal information about all of the people who had created the profiles, such as their sexual orientation, interests, profession, thorough physical characteristics and personality traits. Purchasing this data exposed a vast network of companies that are capitalising on this information without the conscious consent of the users, whom ultimately are the ones being exploited. An extensive report on the origin of the profiles and the vast network of companies that are capitalising on them can be found here.

This project attempts to cast light on well established practices in the global online dating ecosystem, which are crucial to its business model but mostly opaque to their users. We believe that such practices raise alarming ethical, moral and legal questions which urgently need to be addressed, as dating profiles contain intimate information on users and the over-exploitation and misuse of this data can have dramatic effects on their lives.

This project has been developed by Joana Moll in collaboration with Ramin Soleymani and Tactical Tech.

Published 16 November 2018