Are dating apps addictive? A recent lawsuit says so

By Abigail Palotas, Staff Writer

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Studies indicate 10-50% of couples in the United States met through online dating.[1] Nearly half of dating app users (48%) check their dating app as the last thing they do before going to sleep, and 39% say they check it first thing after waking up.[2] In a class action lawsuit filed on Valentine’s Day, six plaintiffs from four different states allege that popular dating apps such as Tinder and Hinge are “designed to be addictive.”[3]

Parent company Match Group owns and operates Tinder, Hinge, and 10 other dating platforms.[4] The complaint claims Match Group violated state and federal consumer protection, false advertising, and defective design laws.[5] Despite Hinge marketing itself as an app “designed to be deleted,” the plaintiffs accuse Match Group of intentionally designing dating apps with addictive, game-like features, locking users into a perpetual “pay-to-play loop that prioritizes corporate profits over its marketing promises and customers’ relationship goals.”[6] While apps like Tinder and Hinge are free to download and use, paid subscriptions to premium features are required to have unlimited swipes or access the most coveted singles on the app.[7] These apps derive 98% of their revenue directly from users who pay for subscriptions and in-app purchases.[8] Additionally, the plaintiffs accuse Match Group of using so-called ‘dark patterns’ – web design features meant to trick people into buying things or paying for services which they did not intend to buy.[9]

The lawsuit also references Tinder co-founder Jonathan Badeen’s statements that the dating app’s swiping feature was partially based on a famous behavioral psychology experiment which “turned pigeons into gamblers,” by giving them food delivered at random intervals.[10] The pigeons were conditioned to believe their pecking prompted food to appear.[11] “Just as pigeons can be conditioned to peck at determinable intervals, so can users be conditioned to endlessly swipe,” according to the lawsuit.[12]

The lawsuit poses the question: does Match Group have to disclose the potentially addictive quality of such commonplace design features, and has the company’s lack of warnings constituted a violation of consumer protection laws?[13] Section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934, enacted as part of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, is a law that, since it was enacted, has provided tech companies with broad immunity from lawsuits.[14] Section 230 allows tech companies to decide what is and what is not allowed on their sites, without being legally responsible for individual user’s posts.[15] Because of Section 230, recent lawsuits against tech companies, and now against Match Group, utilize novel claims such as product liability and defective design.[16]

The suit against Match Group joins a new crop of lawsuits challenging tech companies.[17] Recent suits have targeted Google, TikTok, and Meta, owner of both Instagram and Facebook, in attempt to hold these platforms accountable for exacerbating the youth mental health crisis.[18]

Dr. James Ivory, a professor of media studies at Virginia Tech, said it is “hard to prove at what point social media or dating apps go from entertaining to addicting.”[19]Ivory also stated that while there is certainly not much room for disagreement that a lot of social media apps are designed to get people to use them more, it is more difficult to say whether this constitutes development of a behavioral addiction.[20] Regardless of the outcome from the lawsuit against Match Group, Ivory thinks this kind of media is here to stay, so people will have to learn to live healthy lives around it.[21]





[5] Id.


[7] Id.


[9] Id.


[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.




[17] Id.

[18] Id.


[20] Id.

[21] Id.

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