Tinder

On Monday, a website called Swipebuster made the rounds as brief stories about it appeared on a few websites. The site, which was called "Tinder Buster" until a name change on Sunday night, advertises itself as a way to find out if your significant other or spouse is on Tinder looking for some sort of extra-relational activity. You pay $4.99 and then enter the person's name, gender, age, and geographical location and it performs a search that uses Tinder's API.

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Vanity Fair, which first reported on Swipebuster, said it had passed their "unscientific test," locating their intended target in a dozen or so attempts. But when I tried it, its performance was shaky.

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I created an account, put 10 dollars on it (4.99 buys 3 searches), and gave it a shot. Of the 4 searches I performed (one on myself, and three on colleagues I knew to be on Tinder), only one returned the account in question. The other searches turned up either nothing or a number of people with the same first name and age as the people I was searching for. My colleague Isha Aran, the sole account I was able to find successfully, initially said she found her account being searchable weird, and later added that it was "pretty creepy."

I asked Swipebuster about this unimpressive success rate, and they said the site had proved too popular with users. "We are experiencing a higher load than we expected," said a member of the app's support team via email. "This is why you are seeing less than perfect results. We are working to complete the queue and you should be getting better results than 1/4 hit rate."

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They added that the better results should start appearing sometime in the next day or so. I'm still waiting.

Regardless of its efficacy, there are some squishy privacy issues here. Swipebuster provides a couple photos from profiles it turns up, the gender(s) in which the person is interested, and the time they were last active on Tinder. As Sam Escobar pointed out, there's the possibility that an abusive ex or stalker might use this to harass someone.

Regardless of whether it finds whomever a given user is looking for, Swipebuster can turn up many accounts on any given search, and allows users to look at all results for the area they've chosen to search. So if you were hoping for a little privacy for your Tinder account, bummer.

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Theoretically Tinder could turn off Swipebuster's access to its API, but the company didn't respond to multiple requests for comment as to why Swipebuster's API access hasn't been revoked. It did, however, send the following statement to Vanity Fair:

[S]earchable information on the Web site is public information that Tinder users have on their profiles. If you want to see who's on Tinder we recommend saving your money and downloading the app for free.

This is a classic example of a contextual privacy violation: people are okay with their Tinder information being "public" when the audience is other people looking for some loving, but perhaps not when it's people crawling the database in a specific search intended to embarrass, out, or confront them.

Swipebuster told me that they've had no contact with Tinder, but that they "would be very open to a conversation with people in the Tinder team."

Admittedly, Tinder accounts have been growing more public in the past year. An update in November made work and education information of fellow users more readily available, and users can now create web-based profiles that can be shared with non-users.

The anonymous man who created and runs Swipebuster told Vanity Fair that he was motivated by a concern for how much information people put out in public, saying, “There is too much data about people that people themselves don’t know is available. Not only are people oversharing and putting out a lot of information about themselves, but companies are also not doing enough to let people know they’re doing it.”

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It's a noble sentiment, but charging $5 a search to point out a privacy loophole makes it seem more opportunistic than in service to the public good.

But Tinder is right: the information is technically public, and because the information is pulled down from Facebook, you can't just change your name—or you risk violating Facebook's real name policy and getting kicked off their platform. So if you're opposed to being outed as a Tinder user, your only option for now is to grin and bear it or leave the service.

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Ethan Chiel is a reporter for Fusion, writing mostly about the internet and technology. You can (and should) email him at ethan.chiel@fusion.net