Need to know
- Our 2020 investigation revealed older Australians pay substantially more to use Tinder Plus
- Consumers International applied our methodology to six countries, finding that price discrimination goes beyond age and is both rampant and complex
- Tinder's price-setting mechanism should be made clear for both consumers and policymakers, researchers say
In 2020 we had 60 people sign up to Tinder accounts and discovered that in Australia, the popular dating app charges older people more to access its services.
Our investigation also found that other forms of discriminatory pricing were routine across the platform.
Our findings were consistent with earlier reporting on Tinder's practices in the US state of California, where its price discrimination has given rise to a number of lawsuits.
And now a global consortium of consumer rights groups has used our mystery shop methodology to survey six other countries, and discovered Tinder's price discrimination practices extend across the globe.
Older people paying more in five countries
Our 2020 investigation caught the attention of Consumers International (CI), of which CHOICE is a longstanding member.
The organisation has reported the findings of a broader investigation in collaboration with Mozilla Foundation (which describes itself as a nonprofit software community and is behind the Firefox browser).
It found that older Tinder Plus users in India, the Republic of Korea, the US, the Netherlands and New Zealand are "unknowingly paying more". Brazil was the only country of the six examined where age apparently didn't play a part in pricing.
Nearly six million people across the world use Tinder Plus and are potential unknowing victims of this discriminationConsumers International
In the five affected countries, people aged 30–49 and 50-plus were quoted substantially more on average than those aged 18–29. On average across the six countries, 30–49 year olds were charged 65.3% more than 18–29 year olds.
Discrimination not limited to age
In line with our 2020 investigation, the CI project also revealed that prices can change according to other factors, due to an "incredibly complex" price-setting mechanism that seemingly draws on age, "and other unknown factors, possibly including data points beyond those provided upon registration".
Cl found the same kinds of price discrimination globally as in Australia.
"Nearly six million people across the world use Tinder Plus and are potential unknowing victims of this discrimination," CI says in a statement, adding that the practice "is concealed by a lack of meaningful access to the pricing algorithm, limiting the ability to investigate and audit".
Issue goes beyond dating apps
For Consumers International, as well as for CHOICE, the issue of online pricing discrimination goes well beyond dating apps.
Tinder is just one example among many that leave consumers at the mercy of invisible pricing mechanisms over which they have no control.
"Consumer associations, other think tanks, and enforcement and supervisory bodies should be given meaningful access to the algorithms that determine personalised pricing in order to establish if the practice is fair and where unfair discrimination is occurring," says Helena Leurent, director general at Consumers International.
"Consumers must be given greater agency over the use and dissemination of their personal data collected for personalised pricing purposes, while measures must be introduced to uphold data protections for all," Leurent says.
Consumers must be given greater agency over the use and dissemination of their personal dataHelena Leurent, director general Consumers International
Tinder Plus users are left in the dark about their pricing mechanisms.
The research team also surveyed consumers about personalised pricing and algorithm-driven discrimination.
Almost every respondent expressed concern about the practice, particularly around data privacy and the unfairness of charging some people more than others.
"In the supermarket, everyone sees the same price for the same product," says CHOICE senior policy advisor Amy Pereira.
"But when we hop online or onto an app like Tinder, we see different prices for the same thing. The worst part is, we don't know why these prices are different or what factors feed into them, let alone how to challenge them."
Call for transparency
Pereira says businesses need to come clean about their pricing practices.
"Businesses like Tinder owe it to their customers to be upfront and honest with their pricing, in the same way that those customers have been honest and upfront with the personal information they've entrusted to the business, hoping for it to not be used against them."
Businesses like Tinder owe it to their customers to be upfront and honest with their pricingAmy Pereira, CHOICE senior policy advisor
Some users see prices as high as $28.99 per month to access Tinder Plus
In a 2020 national CHOICE survey, four in five Australians said they were concerned about businesses not being transparent about offering different prices to customers based on the data they hold, and the same percentage expressed concern about businesses collecting data about our online habits and using it as a basis for price discrimination.
Tinder rejects research results
Despite the Consumers International findings, a Tinder spokesperson tells CHOICE that the company "has never factored in sexual orientation, gender identity, or any other demographic characteristic to our pricing", adding that it recently "decided to move away from our aged-based pricing policy that provided a lower price subscription for our younger members aged 18 to 28".
According to Tinder, it has already discontinued aged-based pricing in the US, UK, Brazil and Australia.
But a quick check by a number of CHOICE staff of different ages and other demographics revealed that prices for premium options such as Tinder Plus and Tinder Platinum continue to vary. Why that's the case is impossible to say due to Tinder's hidden pricing system.
Correction 10 February 2022: An earlier version of this story stated that gender, sexuality and location were potential factors in Tinder's pricing. That reference has been removed because the findings were not statistically significant in the Consumers International report.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.