Tinder users have known for a while that the price you pay for the dating app’s premium service, Tinder Plus, might not be the same amount the people you’re swiping are shelling out.
Tinder has already settled an age discrimination lawsuit in California, which saw users over 29 in the state — who, like all U.S. users, had been paying double what younger people were for the subscription — eligible for part of a settlement totalling $23 million.
Now the Australian consumer organisation Choice has filed an official complaint with the national consumer commission, the ACCC, after conducting a mystery-shopper survey that found prices for a one-month subscription to Tinder Plus ranged from AUD$6.99 to more than AUD$34, with no transparency upfront about the variation.
Tinder Plus is the lowest tier of Tinder’s premium subscription options, offering users extra features like unlimited swipes, the ability to undo left-swipes, and Super Likes and Boosts to help get your profile more attention. There’s also Tinder Gold, which includes all the above as well as the ability to see who’s already swiped right on you and Top Picks, and the new Platinum tier, which includes the ability to message people you haven’t actually matched with yet.
The variable pricing for Tinder’s premium subscription is far from new, drawing criticism for “border[ing] on age discrimination” when it first launched in 2015. Users on dating app subreddits like r/SwipeHelper and r/Tinder have shared stories of finding out friends were paying less for the premium tiers, or finding out they were being charged more than others after switching their profile’s gender.
But the Choice survey, which collated data from 60 different users — some of whom were given different prices on different occasions — suggests that in at least one market, the price is being determined by more than just whether you’re over 30, flirty, and swiping.
A queer man based outside the city aged between 30 and 49 was quoted two different prices during the mystery shop, AUD$14.99 and also AUD$30.44; a straight man under 30 in a regional area shared that he was quoted AUD$13.82 and also AUD$16.71. The highest price found, that $34 hit, was for a straight man over 50 in a metro area; the lowest was $6.99 for a queer woman under 30, also in the city.
While in most of the U.S. the Plus pricing is set at two tiers — $9.99 for under 30s and $19.99 for over 30s — Choice found that the average price for its Australian mystery shoppers over 30 was more than double the average under-30 price.
“Based on our mystery shop, we know that Tinder is using age to set different prices. But even within age groups, we saw a range of prices, demonstrating that there are other factors at play that Tinder is yet to explain,” said Choice director of campaigns Erin Turner in a statement.
“It is really concerning that we don’t know what information about us Tinder is using to determine these personalised prices. Without knowing what factors influence the prices people get for Tinder Plus, customers aren’t able to really compare prices with other services and can’t judge whether Tinder is unfairly discriminating.”
Mashable reached out to Tinder via their press office and Australian PR representatives to ask what other markets are subject to dynamic or multiple-tier pricing, whether they characterise the tiers as giving younger users a discount or older users a mark-up, what factors are used to determine pricing, and what transparency measures are in place for users to see where their price sits relative to other users, but no response had been received by the time of publication.
We received the following statement from a Tinder spokesperson:
“Tinder is free to use and the vast majority of our members enjoy our app without upgrading to the paid experience. However, we do offer a variety of subscription options and paid a la carte features designed to help our members stand out and match with new people more efficiently. Tinder operates a global business and our pricing varies by a number of factors. We frequently offer promotional rates – which can vary based on region, length of subscription, bundle size and more. We also regularly test new features and payment options.”
“We’ve priced Tinder Plus based on a combination of factors, including what we’ve learned through our testing, and we’ve found that these price points were adopted very well by certain age demographics,” a Tinder spokesperson told NPR back in 2015. “Lots of products offer differentiated price tiers by age, like Spotify does for students, for example. Tinder is no different; during our testing we’ve learned, not surprisingly, that younger users are just as excited about Tinder Plus but are more budget constrained and need a lower price to pull the trigger.”
The consumer-side beef is not necessarily with tiered or dynamic pricing as a business strategy, although the practice of charging people with statistically fewer dating options more money for Tinder Plus or Gold has long rankled with the user base.
But Choice points out that Tinder is also taking the personal data users, quite reasonably, believe they’re providing for the purposes of creating a dating profile (and yes, accepting targeted ads etc.) and using it to also set non-transparent tailored pricing for individuals Tinder believes will pay more.
While the Terms of Service do say that personal information may be used to offer “discounts,” there isn’t enough transparency around the factors that might see you paying more if you don’t live in a city, or are over a certain age.
The California settlement included “an agreement to substantially halt Defendants’ allegedly discriminatory practices going forward” — at least for users in the state of California.
UPDATE: Aug. 11, 2020, 2:34 p.m. CDT This piece has been updated to include a statement from Tinder PR.