What qualities are you looking for in a relationship? Maybe it's honesty, trustworthiness and openness? It's different for everyone, but most of us would agree that a relationship with someone who is secretive and dishonest is not going to last.
That's exactly how CHOICE and our supporters feel about the dating app Tinder. In 2020, a CHOICE investigation revealed that older Australians were secretly charged more to use Tinder Plus, Tinder's premium dating service. Two years on, Consumers International and Mozilla Foundation have found the same practice in five out of the six countries they surveyed.
The new investigation into Tinder pricing found that older Tinder Plus users in India, the Republic of Korea, the US, the Netherlands and New Zealand are "unknowingly paying more". In these 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.
Why is this a problem?
Charging people different prices for the same service is not a new phenomenon. Cheaper cinema tickets for students or public transport concession prices for pensioners are a couple of examples we're used to. But the key difference with these types of price discrimination is that the consumer knows exactly why they're being offered a discount or why they're paying a higher price. There's full transparency in terms of the price and the reason why the price is different.
We suspect that the dating app's pricing system is not only affected by the age of the customer, but perhaps also by other data points they collect on you
This is not what we're seeing from Tinder. Instead, there's a total lack of transparency when it comes to pricing. Its customers are unknowingly paying different prices – that's nearly 6 million people worldwide – with some paying up to five times more than others.
With fierce denials from Tinder, we're left none the wiser about how, exactly, prices are set and what data is used to determine these prices. We suspect that the dating app's pricing system is not only affected by the age of the customer, but perhaps also by other data points they collect on you, such as your operating system or device, your location or even your personal interests.
Tinder finally admits to age-based pricing in Australia
For us, Tinder's behaviour is a huge red flag. When we drew attention to their pricing discrimination in 2020, we got radio silence – Tinder offered no explanations or denials. Now, two years later, the company has owned up to its use of age-based pricing but claims it's been discontinued in Australia since 2019 (a year before we conducted our initial investigation).
But in February 2022, a quick check of the app among CHOICE staff of different ages and other demographics found that prices for Tinder Plus, Gold and Platinum still vary. Some staff members even got different prices for the same service at different times of day or on different devices. It's impossible to explain why, because Tinder won't come clean on how it sets prices for its premium services or why users see vastly different prices.
Tinder won't come clean on how it sets prices for its premium services or why users see vastly different prices
The lack of accountability, which large global companies like Tinder enjoy, speaks volumes. And it is only the tip of the iceberg. Tinder is just one example among many that leave consumers at the mercy of invisible pricing mechanisms over which they have no control. Being honest about their prices is a low bar, one that every company should be able to meet.
Offline protections should exist online
Companies collect your personal information and use it for various purposes, but us consumers are left in the dark as to how it is used. If we were shopping in the supermarket and the price of milk or bread changed depending on our personal characteristics or other invisible factors we wouldn't stand for it. Yet, when we shop online or access a paid service, the prices can shift before our eyes based on factors outside our control.
If we were shopping in the supermarket and the price of milk or bread changed depending on our personal characteristics or other invisible factors we wouldn't stand for it
At CHOICE, we don't think data misuse is fair. We believe that companies must ethically use our personal information by:
- being transparent about how they use consumer data
- making it clear how customers can control what information is kept and used
- making prices easily accessible to all customers to allow real competition, and
- treating customers fairly by making sure no one is unfairly discriminated against.
To protect our personal information CHOICE thinks that companies should meet these basic requirements. As for Tinder, we'd think twice about starting a relationship with them if they're not willing to be honest in their relationship with customers.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.