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Me, Robot? Bad Bots Spark Trouble for Tinder

By A.J. Firstman | Last updated on

It was a beautiful day in late 2022 — or as beautiful as December can be in New Jersey — when Sylvia Ciapinska received a direct message on Instagram. It was a friend of hers saying they had some disturbing pictures that she needed to see. Ciapinska opened the message to find a collection of screenshots of a Tinder profile for a woman named "Gloria." There wasn't anything too remarkable about Gloria's interests or what she'd written about herself and what she was looking for.

Ciapinska was horrified. She knew the woman in the pictures from somewhere. And how could she not? The pictures were from Ciapinska's own Instagram page. There was no Gloria. There was just a scammer who had stolen Ciapinska's pictures and was using her likeness to lure Tinder users into some kind of scam.

This was an odd turn for Ciapinska's Tinder experience. She'd signed up for the service in 2018, a full four years before "Gloria's" profile was brought to her attention. She didn't use the dating app much at all before putting it down and pretty much forgot about it until she received a message about a year later. The message was terse and almost detail-free. Tinder wanted her to know that she was permanently banned from the app. Tinder didn't feel the need to explain itself. Ciapinska sent a confused reply to Tinder's official email. She received no response.

The Gloria incident reawakened Ciapinska's years-old curiosity about just what the heck was going on. She took a closer look at the pictures her friend had sent. To her dismay, Tinder had placed a blue check mark on the fake profile, the symbol Tinder uses to mark profiles that have been "verified" by their system. In other words, the scammer had asked Tinder to inspect the fake profile they'd made using someone else's photos — and Tinder had given them the thumbs-up.

That isn't supposed to happen.

Ciapinska went to Tinder's website to find out what "verification" entails. The site informed her that users could get verified by submitting a video selfie to be run through Tinder's "Liveness Check" and "3D Face Authentication," both of which promised to use impressive technology to stop scammers and catfishers in their tracks.

Tinder's site describes the Liveness Check as a process that employs advanced tech to scan the face in the video selfie the user submitted to determine whether it is real, unaltered video. The 3D Face Authentication check is supposedly even more advanced, using advanced scanning technology to create a 3D model of the user's face, then employing high-tech facial recognition technology to match it against the user's other pictures.

Simply put: Tinder made it clear that all they needed was a user profile and a video selfie to authoritatively determine whether or not the user was who they say they were. Ciapinska and her legal representation claim that Tinder did no such thing. After all, that same system verified Gloria, a user who was verified using stolen photos of a completely different person.

The system doesn't appear to work as well as Tinder promised. And they did promise. To quote them directly: "Photo Verification lets you prove you're the person in your photos. When you see people on the Tinder app with a blue checkmark, it means they're the real deal."

Head of the Class (Action)

Ciapinska filed a suit against Tinder that has since been expanded to include herself and all others similarly situated, defined as: "All individuals within the State of New Jersey who created an account on Defendant's platform in the six years prior to the filing of this Complaint through the date of Judgement in this action." The suit includes two counts: Appropriation of Likeness and the violation of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act.

The first count alleges that Tinder used a falsely advertised photo verification process to legitimize a fraudulent account for the revenue gained through user subscriptions used to interact with the account. Or, to put it another way: Ciapinska and her attorneys allege that Tinder allowed "Gloria" to exist because Tinder thought it would make money from men who were so desperate that they'd shell out the not-insignificant subscription fees just for the chance to talk to "her."

Whatever the case, Ciapinska claims that the appropriation of her likeness has caused her significant emotional distress and "substantial harm to her interest in privacy and the right to control her own publicity." She is asking for compensatory damages and an injunction forcing Tinder to remove all images of her from the app.

The second count alleges that Tinder's conduct violates two clauses of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, the first of which makes commercial practices that involve deception, fraud, or concealment of facts in connection with the sale or advertisement of any products or services, and the second of which targets false advertising more specifically.

Ciapinska and the class members argue they are entitled to a refund of any funds Tinder received from its illegal activities, three times their actual damages from their activities, and the recovery of lawyer fees as part of the recompense for this count. They are also trying to get Tinder to stop using its photo identification feature and to remove any and all advertising for its supposed capabilities.

We'll have to wait and see if Ciapinska's suit is successful and whether it changes the way Tinder does business. There's no denying that Tinder has a bot problem – just about everyone who's used it can tell you about the times they've been excited to match with someone who immediately turned around and tried to fleece them or sell them something. Tinder must know about the issue, but do they care? And, more to the point, what's it going to take to get them to do something about it?

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