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Technology

Is GPS dating app Tinder becoming another 'sex satnav' for casual lovers?

Online dating aficionados, fed up with trawling through endless profiles and failing to find "the one," are turning to Tinder. The app is like a dating satnav, and it's catching on fast.

If you're single and frustrated that no-one around you is chatting you up because they're all playing with their phones, then fear not! They could be using a dating app called Tinder.

The smartphone app uses GPS to find people near you. It matches you up using your existing profile data on Facebook to show whether you have any friends or interests in common. Their image appears on your screen. If you like them, you swipe to the right, if you don't, you swipe to the left. If you both "like" each other, then you can start messaging and maybe arrange to meet, or take it a step further...

But its co-founder, Justin Mateen, seems reluctant to describe Tinder as a dating app. He says his company's vision was "just to help introduce you to new people."

"All we're doing is facilitating an introduction between two people," says Mateen. "What they choose to do with that relationship is entirely up to them."

Competitive market

But it's not the only app of its kind on the market. Gay men have long been using similar sites like Grindr. It's now "infamous" for being a casual sex app, the current equivalent of cruising.

iPhone app Grinder

Apps like Grindr have gained a reputation as conduits for casual sex

And Badoo, founded by a Russian entrepreneur in 2006, also uses GPS technology. However, Badoo has faced criticism over privacy concerns. In a study conducted by Cambridge University in 2009, Badoo was given the lowest score for privacy among the 45 social networking sites examined.

Tinder is trying to create a different image - it doesn't want to be seen as a "sex satnav."

"It's not similar to Badoo in any way," says Mateen. "Our users would never disclose their actual location. It's all relative location. So for example it just says, 'the user is within one mile.'"

The latest statistics from Tinder headquarters in Los Angeles shows its popularity. It now makes some two million matches per day and has 150 million profile ratings. That's impressive, given it only launched a year ago in the US. Now they're expanding rapidly in Europe and elsewhere.

"The trajectory that we're on right now internationally in many countries is very much in line with the growth that we saw in the US in January, where we grew by like five to ten percent day-to-day," Mateen says.

Tinder is the night

It's proving particularly successful among 20-something Londoners. Alex (not his real name) met his current girlfriend via the app.

"I'd been on a few dates and I'd thought, 'well, these aren't really the right kind of people.' But because Tinder links through Facebook, immediately you think, well, I'm going to like you because we have three or four friends in common and I can stalk you through them and find out more about you."

Close-up of a young couple holding mobile phones at a bar counter Keine Weitergabe an Drittverwerter., Royalty free: Bei werblicher Verwendung Preis auf Anfrage

Ever tried Tinder? It's an "introduction service"...

"The app is well-designed," says Alex. "You just click yes for 'like,' or no. It's literally a game. When you match with someone it says, 'do you want to start chatting or do you want to keep playing?' I mean, it literally is saying 'I am a game.'"

Mateen thinks Tinder is popular because it's less artificial than other websites which rely on carefully-constructed profiles.

"Tinder really just emulates the way the real world works," says Mateen. "When you go into a coffee shop, the first thing that you notice about someone is their physical appearance. You're either drawn to them, or you're not. If you are drawn to them, you engage in conversation, you look for commonalities, which help establish trust, so things such as mutual friends, mutual interests are good starting points for that."

"He didn't get the message"

But not everyone has had such a positive experience. Kezia (not her real name) started using Tinder about a month ago, after going on more than 20 dates in the last five months via a free online dating website, OK Cupid.

"I recently started this new job - and my colleagues at work all started getting really excited about Tinder," says Kezia.

"I really wasn't expecting to like it at all because I never really think of myself as being a very superficial person," she says. "And obviously Tinder is all about the photos."

Screenshot Badoo.com. Dating-Network. 1.10.2013

Badoo is also in the digital dating game - but Tinder's Mateen says the two apps are very different

"What was different about it was that on OK Cupid you'd normally exchange quite lengthy messages, that's the kind of genre, so by the time you've met up you know quite a bit about them...you just kind of know a bit too much."

She went on a date that she describes as "more like a real-life interaction" and "more like meeting someone at a bar or at a party" - though the second date didn't go well. She already had concerns that Tinder was seen by some as a casual sex app, rather than an app for people looking for a relationship.

"We were in the cinema and he basically was putting his hand on my leg and was making me feel uncomfortable...and he really didn't seem to get the message."

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