There’s Something Seriously Wrong With Dating Apps

Introducing ‘MonsterMatch,’ a Mozilla Creative Media Awardee

Dating apps are powerful tools, able to instantly match you with potential romantic partners.

But did you know dating apps can also permanently separate you from the perfect someone, and everyone like them — often due to factors beyond your control?

This is the idea behind MonsterMatch, a dating app simulator launching today that reveals the invisible, algorithmic discrimination that often takes place on dating apps. Learn more and play at https://monstermatch.hiddenswitch.com

MonsterMatch is created by Ben Berman, a San Francisco-based developer and researcher, and Miguel Perez, a designer in Chicago. The project is supported by a Mozilla Creative Media Award.

In MonsterMatch, users play as vampires, demons, and giant insects seeking love, swiping left or right on potential paramours. Along the way, users learn about “collaborative filtering,” the algorithm that powers popular dating apps like Tinder and Bumble.

Collaborative filtering is the same technology that powers recommendations on Amazon, Google, and Netflix: “If you like x, you’ll also like y.” It uses majority opinion to assume what you do and don’t prefer.

Collaborative filtering can have unintended consequences, especially when the algorithm is recommending human beings and not just movies or products. The algorithm can narrow options based on other people’s prior choices, in turn discriminating against racial, ethnic and sexual orientation minorities.

Here’s an example: A werewolf swipes “yes” on a zombie. Then, that same werewolf swipes “no” on a vampire. From now on, when a new user also swipes “yes” on the zombie, the algorithm will assume the new user “also” dislikes the vampire. And so the new user never sees the vampire profile.

Says Ben Berman: “We like to imagine that everyone gets a fair chance at finding love on the internet, regardless of their race or gender. But that’s not always the case.”

Berman continues: “If an algorithm penalizes certain individuals, those individuals have a right to know. The makers of dating apps — and other influential technology — should create algorithms whose code and consequences are more transparent, and thus easier to correct when discrimination occurs. We expect a certain level of transparency in other industries, from government to medicine to agriculture. Technology should be no different.”

Mozilla’s Creative Media Awards are part of our mission to support a healthy internet. They fuel the people and projects on the front lines of the internet health movement — from researchers in San Francisco to computer scientists in the United Arab Emirates to digital artists in the Netherlands.

The latest cohort of Awardees uses art and advocacy to shine a light on the AI that influences our everyday lives. AI today is invisible to most of us, yet has an outsized impact: It influences what news we read, who we date, if we’re hired for that dream job, and whether or not we qualify for a loan or parole.

Says Mark Surman, Mozilla’s Executive Director: “Artificial intelligence is increasingly interwoven into our everyday lives. Mozilla’s Creative Media Awards seek to raise awareness about the potential of AI, and ensure the technology is used in a way that makes our lives better rather than worse.”

Learn more about upcoming Creative Media Award projects.

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