Dating Apps Have a Filter Bubble Problem

Originally published for WIRED on February 14th , 2023.

It only took three days of swiping before he popped up. I froze, thumb hovering over the X. I scrolled through his photos and prompts, looking at what he had changed since I’d seen it the first time.

The first photo was the same: him holding a climbing rope somewhere remote, curly hair bursting from underneath a baseball cap. His simple pleasures were still “mountain roads, forests and alarm free mornings.” He had added a photo where he stood shirtless at the base of a cliff. 

The twist of the knife was the note from Hinge at the top: “Most Compatible: We think you two should meet.”

In my head I could hear Hinge’s version of Microsoft Word’s ’90s-era paper clip helper, Clippy, squeaking at me: “It looks like you like hiking and concerts, would you like to be connected to this other person near you who likes hiking and concerts?” 

The app couldn’t know two of its users had taxied down the runway of dating but never took off—a classic situationship, as the kids call it these days. The algorithm just saw a 31-year-old, outdoorsy local working in biotech and connected the dots to an outdoorsy 30-year-old a few miles away working in science media. And just like the Microsoft users of 1997, I hated it. I wanted to crush the computer program that thought it knew what I wanted, whether that was to write a letter or my perfect match.

The promise of dating apps is to show you all the romantic options in your city, but behind the scenes, the algorithm is cultivating a very specific, limited, at-least-somewhat-distinct dating landscape for each user.

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