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Buckle up singles, Tinder’s parent company might be building a dating metaverse

Doesn’t it feel like ever since Facebook—now known as Meta—unveiled its new name and somewhat terrifying plans for a metaverse, there seems to be a new headline every day about other companies following suit? No? Just me then. Well, guess who’s following Meta into the metaverse now? Enter Tinder’s parent company, Match Group. That’s right singles, we’re talking about a space-age ‘dating metaverse’. If 2021 couldn’t get any weirder, that is.

A report by TechCrunch has unveiled a long list of Tinder’s upcoming plans: among its recently refreshed and successfully launched Explore page and Swipe Night series, the dating app’s parent company also revealed what the future holds for the emblematic dating app. Not only will its already-launched features continue to grow and develop to include more exclusive content such as the formation of a virtual in-app economy (powered by the currency Tinder Coins) but Tinder’s next big hit could involve a dating metaverse.

The implementation of this proposed virtual economy could be the key component in laying the groundwork for a potential metaverse. It was revealed to TechCrunch by Match Group that the rolling out of Tinder Coins would represent the first phase of this oh-so-futuristic plan, with the feature already being trialled in a number of European countries. Global users of the app will be able to access the coins next year in order to use them for in-app purchases such as buying paid features like Super Like and Boost to increase their chances of sparking a match.

But that’s not the end of it—Tinder Coins will also be offered as a way to purchase elements and products exclusive to the app’s subscription account holders in a pay-as-you-go service. The in-app currency will also be used as a tool to incentivise users to take certain actions like verifying their account and profile, perhaps as part of Tinder’s continued bid to tame catfishing.

This new direction taken by Tinder and first reported on by Bloomberg in October 2021 was just the beginning, “[The currency] will play an important role as the Tinder experience evolves and becomes more immersive, because virtual currency is useful in the context of gifting goods,” Tinder CFO Gary Swidler told the publication. And it looks like it might become a reality sooner than expected.

TechCrunch reported that Match Group’s strategic initiative—revealed Wednesday 3 November—would involve developing Tinder’s in-app economy to implement a trading environment that would include the sale of virtual goods. The plan is set to launch in 2022 and continue onwards for the foreseeable future. As part of a call with investors on Wednesday, Match Group’s CEO Shar Dubey declared that Tinder’s 2022 aim would be to design such virtual goods, decide their value and eventually determine the best way to distribute them to users. This would require stringent testing, the CEO added.

But how does this all fit into the metaverse? According to Dubey, along with the company’s drive to build a virtual economy for Tinder, Match Group will also utilise Hyperconnect—the Seoul-based social media app it acquired earlier this year. While Hyperconnect hasn’t been wildly profitable yet—with the deal closed for $1.73 billion—there is still belief in its long-term use. In the interview with TechCrunch, Dubey also highlighted the app’s trial of its own metaverse. This is the kind of interactive usage that Match Group wants to replicate across all its mediums including Tinder. So what did Hyperconnect’s metaverse look like?

Dubey explained that Hyperconnect’s trial of ‘Single Town’, an avatar-based metaverse experience, had its users meet in virtual locations like a restaurant or bar and have actual conversations using real-time audio. Basically, going on a date from the comfort of your own home—a concept widely contrasting to Bumble’s cafe and wine bar launch which seeks to encourage in-person meetups. Users holed up in Single Town also had the option to converse privately, away from the virtual scenarios, as they normally would.

Dubey, speaking on the test, stated, “It is metaverse experiences coming to life in a way that is transformative to how people meet and get to know each other on a dating or social discovery platform, and is much more akin to how people interact in the real world.” Although TechCrunch reported that the group only hinted at the idea of the dating metaverse, Dubey’s enthusiasm for the future is hard to ignore.

“The next phases of dating apps, in particular, is going to be all about richer, more organic, and more akin to real-life ways of discovering, meeting and getting to know people. Technology is finally getting there. And this underlying technology platform Hyperconnect has built, that powers Single Town, has been built in a way that it can be leveraged by other platforms easily,” the CEO continued. Although specific apps weren’t mentioned, the most prolific one that comes to mind is Tinder.

Although the company did not specify if Tinder Coins would later crossover as part of the metaverse, TechCrunch’s report cements its likeliness—given the nature of current social trends. The in-app currency could be potentially used to purchase items for your avatar, a feature already present in many metaverse video games while acting as a prospective element in Facebook’s Meta Quest.

Match CFO Swidler added, “The new metaverse elements and the experience that we’re seeing in that beta test—that is something that potentially we can build into either [a] standalone app and/or potentially leverage that user experience into some of our apps in the portfolio.” So buckle up singles, there are compelling reasons in the works for you to access the metaverse now.

Dating app Bumble wants to criminalise cyberflashing in England and Wales

In 2019, Texas authorities teamed up with the Austin-based dating app Bumble to crack down on cyberflashing—the act of sending sexually explicit material online without consent. At the time, several researches revealed how women encountered sexual harassment in the cyberspace at much higher rates than men. In order to tackle these shocking statistics, Texas actually passed a law—surprising because the state doesn’t exactly have the best track record—making electronic transmissions of explicit material a Class C misdemeanour, with a fine of up to $500 if it was non-consensual.

Although the law currently applies to text messages, email, dating apps and social media in the state, statistics have shown little to no improvement in the issue worldwide. Now, Bumble wants to change that—starting by criminalising the act in England and Wales with the help of a dedicated campaign dubbed #DigitalFlashingIsFlashing.

According to a new research carried out by the dating app, 48 per cent of women aged 18 to 24—out of the 1,793 respondents based in England or Wales—had received an explicit, non-consensual photo over the last year alone. 59 per cent of them admitted to losing their trust in other internet users afterward, while one in four felt violated in the process. Interviewing nearly 100 women about their experience with cyberflashing, journalist Sophie Gallagher also found that one in four women believe that the number of incidents have increased during the pandemic.

“The evidence clearly shows that such online sexual violence does not sit in a separate arena to its offline equivalents,” she said in an interview with Mashable, adding how the issue exists on a spectrum of harm. The survey by Bumble additionally states that 95 per cent of women under the age of 44 believe more needs to be done in order to tackle the non-consensual proliferation of such material.

In the UK, cyberflashing has been widely reported since 2015, when the British Transport Police opened its first investigation on unsolicited AirDropped images. Since the recipient did not ‘accept’ the photographs, there was no digital evidence to work with and the report was recorded as intelligence. This continues to be the case for many. In fact, cyberflashing is now normalised in the country, with one in three women in the UK stating that it is just “part and parcel” of online behaviours today.

On the other hand, Whitney Wolfe Herd, founder and CEO of Bumble, is surprised we’re still failing to protect women in online spaces in an age synonymous with space-age developments. “Cyberflashing is a relentless, everyday form of harassment that causes victims—predominantly women—to feel distressed, violated and vulnerable on the internet as a whole,” she said in a press release, highlighting the absence of laws needed for accountability. “This issue is bigger than just one company, and we cannot do this alone. We need governments to take action to criminalise cyberflashing and enforce what is already a real-world law in the online world.”

Bumble’s #DigitalFlashingIsFlashing campaign hence calls on the UK government to acknowledge this necessity, thereby bringing England and Wales in line with Scotland—where the act has been criminalised for over a decade. The app also plans to hold cross-party parliamentary consultations alongside UN Women, the United Nations’ gender equality arm, to galvanise support from members of the parliament in the UK.

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This is also not the first time Bumble has taken a stand against cyberflashing. In 2019, the app introduced a feature called ‘Private Detector’ that leverages AI to automatically detect and blur unsolicited nude images. It then alerts the recipient—who can either choose to view, delete or report the image. Although victims of cyberflashing are not the subject of the picture or video footage in question, they are the recipient. The explicit material is also not required to be of the sender’s genitals for them to be found guilty of the act.

According to The Week, victims of cyberflashing often do not know the identity of the sender, although the harmful act can sometimes be carried out by people known to them. Such content is additionally sent via peer-to-peer (P2P) platforms like AirDrop rather than by email or the internet—which gives the recipient the two-fold threat of a sender who is not only anonymous but also in close proximity to their area of residence.

“We must understand that cyberflashing is not a small act, it is a form of sexual intimidation that can have devastating impacts on women and young girls,” said Professor Clare McGlynn QC from Durham University. “In essence, cyberflashing is a sexual violation infringing women’s sexual autonomy, privacy, and their right to live life free from harassment.” According to the expert, what’s particularly concerning is the fundamental lack of consent and the intrusive way these images are typically sent. “For some women, cyberflashing is worse than being flashed in the street—with the offender unknown, no one seeing what is happening, and it feeling like an invasion into the very personal space of your phone which is impossible to ignore or forget.”

If flashing wouldn’t fly on the street—or at the office, or in the classroom—it shouldn’t be tolerated in your inbox. With Bumble currently advocating for similar laws in California and New York, you can share your experiences of cyberflashing using the dedicated hashtag #DigitalFlashingIsFlashing. Until then I’m looking at you, creepshots. You’re undoubtedly up next.