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How dating apps are evolving to become safer spaces for modern lovers

Dating apps have had to rethink their safety features amid increased userbases/Image via Icon8

With dating apps more popular than ever before, many are evolving to cater to the needs of a wider and more diverse userbase. The Drum investigates how leading platforms are utilizing UX design to make online dating a better experience for everyone.

The dating app space flourished throughout the pandemic, with millions of singles worldwide forced to re-imagine mingling amid lockdown restrictions and the need for social distancing.

Over the last year, up to 82% of singles have turned to online dating looking for love, and engagement has remained high on the platforms despite increasing screen fatigue and the limitations of multiple lockdowns.

But with increased usership has come ongoing conversations around the wellbeing of users on the platforms. Many dating apps have subsequently implemented new features in the hopes of keeping new users engaged, while also improving their safety and usability in order to foster a better environment for anyone looking for love.

Catering to communities

When it comes to online dating, there are a plethora of apps to choose from, from the more general cultural mainstays including Tinder, Bumble and OKCupid to the more niche dating apps that target specific demographics of anything from sexual orientation to religion and lifestyle.

Muzmatch is an app that caters specifically to people of the Muslim faith, emphasizing marriage as opposed to casual dating. Its founder and chief executive officer Shahzad Younas explains that the bespoke app works well for the Muslim community, who might struggle to find what they are looking for on a more general platform.

“When it comes to developing any app, identifying your user’s intent is crucial. Because the Muslim community is more focused on finding a life partner than dating casually, we designed the app with this in mind,” he says.

For example, while most dating apps ask users to agree to certain codes of conduct when signing up to the platform, on Muzmatch users are invited to take an oath when they sign up – confirming their intentions and agreeing to codes of conduct in line with the Muslim faith.

The app also features the possibility for users to add a third party to the conversation, which, as Muzmatch’s head of community Anisa Ameen explains, mimics how a chaperone would behave in real life.

“In the Islamic faith, generally if you were to go on a date or to meet someone, you would have someone else there with you, so this is replicated in the app,” she says.

“This would be someone in your contacts, usually a family member like a brother or a cousin – they don’t need to be a user on the app themselves. But they are there to make sure that you are comfortable and following the procedure when it comes to dating.”

In order to achieve transparency around the presence of a third party, Ameen and Younas explain that those who have opted to have one will have it clearly visible on their profiles, and both parties will have to opt in to the match before the third party user can review messages.

Consent conversations

Ensuring that all users have clarity around their ability to consent to certain features on dating apps has taken on increasing credence as lockdown restrictions resulted in many platforms introducing enhanced features like audio and video chat, as well as voice messages.

Muzmatch introduced its video call capacities fairly early on in the first UK lockdown, featuring a double opt-in system that means both parties must agree to the call first before it can be enabled.

Younas says that the implementation of call features on the app helps protect users, as it means they can maintain contact within the app for as long as possible without having to disclose personal details such as phone numbers in order to call. He notes that as a result, 45% of video calls are actually started by women.

Tinder – the world’s most popular dating app – introduced its in-app call feature back in July of last year. Similarly, it features a double opt-in system which means that users cannot be called without their consent. A source from Tinder tells The Drum that company guidance suggests that users should now only consider an in-person meeting with someone they have spoken to over video chat – for the sake of verification of identity and assessment of trustworthiness.

Assuming false identities, or ‘catfishing’, on dating apps has been a dark reality of the platforms since their inception. However, enhanced features, including Tinder’s latest verification process, ensures that the app can take increasing responsibility for confirming people are who they say they are.

Rolled out in July 2020, Tinder’s photo verification software compares a posed photo taken in real-time to the images that appear on a member’s profile. It is designed to enhance the safety of members by ensuring authenticity and increasing trust in member profiles.

Speaking on its impact, Elie Seidman, Tinder’s chief exec, says: “Every day, millions of our members trust us to introduce them to new people, and we’re dedicated to building innovative safety features powered by best-in-class technology that meet the needs of today’s daters. This update represents an important step in driving our safety work forward.”

Creating a safe space

Other developments in what Tinder calls its ‘trust and safety work’ are two corresponding features named ‘Does this bother you?’ and ‘Are you sure?’ The former software, which was first rolled out in January of last year, scans messages for keywords and phrases that could cause discomfort to a receiver. The app then allows users the option of deciding whether or not they wish to receive this message by asking ‘Does this bother you?’ and allowing them to report the message if it does.

The latter addition, ‘Are you sure?’, was then developed following insights from ‘Does this bother you?’ and works with the sender by asking them if they are sure they want to send a message that could cause discomfort before they do. Tinder told The Drum that these innovations have caused the reporting of uncomfortable situations to spike by 32%.

Rainn is the largest anti-sexual violence organization in the US. Its president, Scott Berkowitz, says of Tinder’s latest developments that “by conveying their expectation for respectful communication, and letting users pause a moment to rethink a message that might offend, Tinder is engaging its community to create a safer platform”.

“By giving users an easy way to flag harassing messages, this new tool will help Tinder identify – and take action against – those users who are unwilling to act responsibly.”

With the global vaccination program now fully under way, dating apps will doubtless be forced to evolve further in order to cater to the needs of daters in a post-Covid world. They will likely have increased expectations of dating apps to keep them engaged – as well as safe – as they re-enter the dating world face to face.

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