Getting a coronavirus vaccine is the hottest thing right now. At least, that’s the impression you might get from dating apps, where people are mentioning they’ve got their shot as a way to meet likeminded people.
“We have seen a 137% increase in mentions of “vaccine” on our profiles [globally] between November and January,” Michael Kaye, a spokesperson from dating app OKCupid, told Insider.
Tinder said it has seen a 258% increase in profile mentions of vaccines between September and December, Tyla reported.
Bumble, another dating app, told Insider it had seen an increase in the number of people with the word “vaccine” or “vaccinated” in their Bumble profiles but did not elaborate. Grindr, an online dating app for gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people, told Insider it did not collect data about COVID-19 vaccines.
“Not only is the vaccine becoming the biggest talking point on dating apps, it’s actually becoming a huge deal-breaker,” Kaye added.
Sarah Kelly, a journalist who hadn’t had a COVID-19 vaccine yet, tweeted January 31 that a man wrote to her on a dating app: “Ur real cool however I found someone who is also Vaccinated!!”
OKCupid includes a set of “matching questions” that users can voluntarily answer. The questions ask whether they would get vaccinated and whether they would cancel a date if a match wouldn’t get a shot. This then appears on their profile for potential suitors to see. The questions have been answered more than 17 millions times.
Kaye said people who answered that they would get a COVID-19 shot got more “likes” than those who said no. He said 40% of Millennial and Gen Z-aged OKCupid users would cancel a date with someone who wouldn’t take a vaccine. The figure was 18% higher for women compared with men. Most OKCupid daters are straight, but LGBTQ + people use the platform too.
So far, more than 212 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered across 90 countries, according to Johns Hopkins University. Most countries have prioritized those at highest risk of severe COVID-19 disease, namely older people who are less likely to be using OKCupid, Tinder, or Bumble. But key workers like health professionals and those with certain medical conditions have also been top of the priority list in some countries.
Some younger people in the US have been able to get a shot by queuing up outside pharmacies for leftover doses. Vaccine trial participants are another group of younger people who have been able to get a shot before others.
‘Fraught with dangers’
Dr. Nilufar Ahmed, a lecturer in Social Sciences at the University of Bristol, told Insider in a statement that the area was “fraught with dangers.” Meeting someone who was vaccinated does not reduce the risk of catching coronavirus or stop you from passing it on, she said.
Dr. Veronica Lamarche, a relationships expert from the Department of Psychology at the University of Exeter, didn’t think that it would necessarily open the “floodgates” for risky behavior, because often people who were conscientious enough to engage in protective health practices, were also more likely to be conscientious in other ways too.
“It will probably increase the likelihood that people feel safe to interact with other people because they’ve been vaccinated,” she said. “And then it’s really a question of vaccine efficacy at that point, whether or not it’s increasing their risks.”
‘Health disclosure nightmare’
Dating apps do not routinely verify whether someone has been immunized or not. In the US, dating apps would not be HIPAA-compliant if they shared health information.
Lamarche said daters could lie about their immunization status, and people might engage in dates that aren’t as safe as they expected. But she said that if health-based questions were compulsory and apps had to verify the details, you would get into a “health disclosure nightmare”.
“I think that is something that goes beyond just the simple question of the pandemic and something that needs to be considered in terms of the morality behind being forced to disclose these different types of health information,” she said.
Lawrence Young, a virologist and professor at Warwick University, told Insider that what it means to be “vaccinated” was unclear, and including all the relevant information in a short bio on a dating profile could be a challenge.
“There’s a whole issue about how many doses of the vaccine you get, because you do need two doses for most of these vaccines,” he said.
Young said that for him it was “a slippery slope.”
“Clearly people are at liberty to declare anything they wish to declare. But I do wonder about where you draw the line,” he said. “Do they say actually I’ve had a papilloma virus vaccine for instance, because that’s linked with cervical cancer and head and neck cancer.”
“Are you going to start mentioning other aspects of your health?” Young added. “Do you need to start doing DNA tests to see if you’re at increased susceptibility to various diseases?
‘Winning the war on the virus’
“I guess from a public health perspective, dating apps could help win the war on the virus, because people will go: if I want to date somebody, then I better be vaccinated,” Ivo Vlaev, professor of behavioural science at Warwick Business School, told Insider.
Young said most young people usually don’t get severe disease, but could end up with long-term complications of COVID-19 if they catch coronavirus, so it was important to protect as many people as possible with vaccinations.
Vlaev said all policy decisions impact our private lives. “The more governments and other organizations require vaccination status, the more we are going to require from each other,” he said.
“There aren’t any hard or written rules about how to date. So I think it’s interesting that we’re seeing that people put this information on their profile and that’s a way of signaling what the social norm is,” Lamarche said.
Kaye said a really positive impact of the pandemic was that people are talking more about important sexual health issues on their dating profiles, for example, whether they had been tested for sexually transmitted infections.
Lamarche said it could backfire, though, if some people say publicly that they haven’t been vaccinated or won’t get immunized.
“This could start to set a different set of norms and expectations, and disagreement on what is typical or what you should be doing if you want to get a partner,” Larmarche said. “You might see a counter-movement emerge.”
Lamarche said she generally thought it was probably a positive trend, especially to motivate younger groups who might feel disincentivized to get vaccines if they feel that COVID-19 is less of a factor in their lives.
“By and large, the benefits probably outweigh the negatives,” she said.
Online dating can be messy. The companies that run online dating can be messier.
Match Group, which started as one lonely Stanford Business School graduate’s attempt to build a less embarrassing way to find love online in the ’90s, has turned into a titan that owns nearly every US dating site.
College campus mainstay Tinder, serious relationship finder OkCupid, and Christian teen dating site Upward all belong to Match Group. Billionaire Barry Diller’s holding group IAC founded Match Group before it spun out the dating conglomerate last year.
Bumble, however, is conspicuously absent from Match’s portfolio. Bumble’s CEO, ex-Tinder executive Whitney Wolfe Herd, has a toxic history with the online dating group.
Ahead of Bumble’s entrance into Nasdaq, here’s the decades-long history into how Match Group became the owner of practically every online dating space in the country.
Match Group was founded in February 2009 after the holding company IAC decided to bundle all dating sites it owned. IAC’s initial purchase of Match.com dates back to the 1990s.
Stanford Business School graduate Gary Kremen founded Match.com in 1995 to design a meeting place for older professionals looking for long-term relationships, SF Gate reported.
But Kremen left Match.com in 1996 after butting heads with the firm’s investors. He walked away with just $50,000, Insider reported.
Ticketmaster Inc., which had recently been bought out by USA Networks Inc. (later renamed IAC), bought Match.com in 1999 for $50 million. Cendant Corporation bought the matchmaking upstart a year earlier for $6 million, per SF Gate.
During the 2000s, IAC chairman Barry Diller turned Match.com into one of the most successful online dating companies in the US.
Jim Safka, a former ETrade and AT&T executive, took over as Match.com CEO in 2004 after years of stalled growth.
Match had grow its subscriber base by 10% just a few months after Safka joined, The Wall Street Journal reported in 2007, partially due to his emphasis on marketing to older demographics. Revenue increased 68% between 2003 and 2006, going from $185.3 million to $311.2 million, D Magazine reported.
During Safka’s leadership, Match became the one of best-performing companies in Diller’s portfolio, per D Magazine.
Barry Diller decided to form Match Group after breaking up IAC into five different companies in 2008.
Diller won a court battle to break up IAC into five companies: the Home Shopping Network; Ticketmaster; time-share company Interval; LendingTree; and IAC, which would include Match.com and Ask.com, per the NYT.
In February 2009, Match Group officially formed, as IAC set its sights on more dating platforms.
Diller acquired some of the hottest online dating sites in the years following his decision to splinter off Match Group.
IAC acquired People Media for $80 million in cash in July 2009, months after Match Group’s inception. Tech Crunch reported the deal included 27 targeted dating sites, including BlackPeopleMeet.com and SingleParentMeet.com, with a combined 255,000 subscribers.
In 2011, IAC’s Match Group announced another blockbuster acquisition of OkCupid for $50 million. OkCupid differed from other dating sites at the time by skipping the subscription-model and offering services free of charge. OkCupid, geared toward younger people, raised $6 million in funding prior to its acquisition, per TechCrunch.
Today, Match Group’s portfolio of apps includes:
Match, the company’s original app, which is available in 25 countries
Tinder, which lets users swipe through potential matches
Hinge, an app focused on finding relationships
POF (Plenty of Fish), one of the largest dating sites in Match’s portfolio and available in over 20 countries
OkCupid, which asks users multiple choice questions to determine compatibility
OurTime, a dating app for singles over 50
Meetic, which serves European countries
Pairs, which serves Asian countries
Upward, a Christian dating app for Gen Z and millennials
According to data from mobile analyst firm Sensor Tower, as of 2014, Match Group’s portfolio of apps saw an estimated 56 million installs globally. In the first three quarters of 2020, Match Group reached 82 million installs worldwide, an increase of roughly 46%.
The road to attaining what is essentially a monopoly on dating hasn’t been smooth, and it began with the birth of Tinder.
Match Group owns a sizable stake in the multibillion-dollar dating app industry, Vox reported, with a report from Apptopia estimating the company has cornered about 60% of the dating app market with its suite of apps.
Match Group has evaded antitrust investigation due in part to lax oversight by the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission, Evan Gilbert wrote in the NYU Law Review in 2019.
Monopolies are also “hard to prove,” and the FTC may not view Match Group as a big threat, Christopher Sagers, a professor at the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, told Yahoo Finance.
In January 2012, Hatch Labs, a startup “sandbox” launched by IAC to incubate mobile apps, hired entrepreneur Sean Rad as general manager. During a Hatch Labs hackathon that February, Rad, who had been considering creating a dating product, worked with developer Joe Muñoz to create the prototype for Tinder.
Jonathan Badeen and Chris Gulczynski were hired soon after to help with front-end and design, respectively. Whitney Wolfe Herd was hired by Hatch Labs in May of that year and Justin Mateen was brought in as a contractor. The app was originally called Match Box.
By August 2012, what had been renamed “Tinder” launched on Apple’s App Store. In a few months, Tinder had made a million matches, mainly as a result of marketing heavily to fraternities and sororities on college campuses.
By April 2013, Tinder officially incorporated, with Rad, Badeen, and Mateen considered the company’s cofounders. Rad served as CEO.
In 2014, Wolfe Herd, then Tinder’s vice president of marketing, sued Tinder and IAC for sexual harassment and discrimination. Wolfe Herd alleged that Mateen, her former boyfriend, harassed her while she worked for the company.
Wolfe Herd alleged that she had held the title of Tinder cofounder, which was later revoked. She also claimed in her suit that Mateen verbally harassed her following their breakup, and that Rad and Match.com CEO Sam Yagan did nothing about. Eventually, Wolfe Herd resigned.
After text messages between Wolfe Herd and Mateen were published as part of the suit, Mateen was suspended and ultimately resigned. In November 2014, the lawsuit was settled for an undisclosed sum, but reports from the time pegged it at “just over” $1 million.
Rad also decided to step down in the wake of the scandal and so IAC could find a more experienced CEO.
By 2015, Rad was back at the helm of Tinder, just as Match Group went public.
Match Group’s stock opened at $12 per share and the company raised roughly $400 million, on the low end of what it hoped to raise with the initial public offering.
The IPO came shortly after a bizarre interview with Rad in which he discussed his sex life. The article also mentioned Tinder’s number of users, which Rad wasn’t authorized to discuss on the eve of the IPO. (A quiet period prior to an IPO bars executives from publicly discussing certain matters.)
Match Group had to file an update with the Securities and Exchange Commission to clear up any confusion about Rad’s interview.
One year later, Rad became chairman of Tinder and Greg Blatt became Tinder’s CEO while simultaneously serving as CEO and chairman of Match Group. By 2017, Tinder had merged under the Match Group umbrella.
In 2018, Rad and nine other Tinder employees sued IAC, claiming IAC purposely undervalued the startup. The lawsuit sought $2 billion in damages.
When IAC merged Tinder with Match Group in 2017, the suit argued, Tinder employees’ options in the rapidly growing app were “stripped away,” leaving them with options in Match instead, which was less valuable.
The suit also argued that Blatt valued Tinder far lower than Tinder’s cofounders believed it to be worth. Additionally, Rosette Pambakian, Tinder’s vice president of marketing and communications, alleged that Blatt had groped her at a Tinder holiday party in 2016.
IAC sought to dismiss the suit, which a New York state appeals court rejected in 2019. IAC also counter-sued Rad for $400 million, alleging he had improperly recorded conversations with his superiors.
Starting in 2017, Match Group set its sights on another dating upstart: Hinge, an app focused on finding long-term connections.
Match took a share in the app that September, and in June 2018, acquired a 51% stake in the company.
From Match’s initial investment to the following year, Hinge saw a 400% increase in users, particularly on the East Coast of the US. Hinge, which had been described as the “anti-Tinder,” removed the swipe feature from its app and shifted to more fleshed-out user profiles with a goal of helping users find relationships.
By December 2019, IAC announced it was spinning off its stake in Match Group. “We’ve long said IAC is the ‘anti-conglomerate’ – we’re not empire builders,” Barry Diller, IAC’s chairman, said in a statement at the time.
“We’ve always separated out our businesses as they’ve grown in scale and maturity and soon Match Group, as the seventh spin-off, will join an impressive group of IAC progeny collectively worth $58 billion today,” Diller told CNBC in a statement.
By July 2020, IAC and Match Group completed their separation. IAC said that given Match’s market capitalization, it was the largest company IAC has separated in its history.
Match Group introduced four new board members, including actor Ryan Reynolds and Rupert Murdoch’s third wife, Wendi.
Match Group CEO of 14 years, Mandy Ginsberg, stepped down a year later.
Ginsberg said in a letter to employees she left for personal reasons, including undergoing a preventative double mastectomy and witnessing a tornado demolish her Dallas home.
Former Tinder COO Shar Dubey took over for Ginsberg, and became one of few women of color in chief executive roles at Fortune 500 firms.
Meanwhile, Wolfe Herd had been building a company of her own: Bumble, a dating app aiming to create a comfortable and empowering online dating space for women.
Wolfe Herd was reluctant to build another dating app after her experience at Tinder, but Andrey Andreev, the cofounder of dating app Badoo, convinced her. Along with two former Tinder employees — cofounder Chris Gulzcynski and former vice president of design Sarah Mick — they launched Bumble in December 2014.
Andreev made an initial investment of $10 million and became the majority owner with a 79% stake. Wolfe Herd became CEO with a 20% stake in Bumble, according to Forbes.
Bumble’s basic mechanisms worked like Tinder’s: Users could swipe right on someone they were interested in and swipe left on someone they weren’t, with one catch — only women had the ability to make contact first.
Wolfe Herd told Insider in 2015 that she wanted the app to empower women and feel more modern overall.
By the end of 2017, two years after launching, Bumble had amassed more than 22 million users. Match Group came calling.
According to a report from Forbes’ Clare O’Connor, Match Group offered $450 million for the startup sometime around June 2017, but Bumble rejected the offer.
The talks reportedly continued after that: in November of that year, both Forbes and TechCrunch reported that Match Group was still trying to buy Bumble at a $1 billion valuation.
But the spurned acquisition offer was the beginning of a soured relationship between Match Group and Tinder. In 2018, the companies sued each other, launching a heated legal battle that lasted for over two years.
In March 2018, Match Group filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Bumble, accusing the startup of copying Tinder’s technology, particularly its design and the process for matching users. The suit also alleged that Gulzcynski and Mick stole confidential information from Tinder.
Bumble claimed in its suit that Match Group used the acquisition talks to improperly obtain proprietary information about the company and used the lawsuit to make Bumble look less attractive to other potential buyers.
The two companies reportedly tried, unsuccessfully, to settle. In September of that year, Bumble announced it was taking Match Group to court as well as preparing for an initial public offering.
In June 2020, Match Group and Bumble announced that they had settled all litigation between them. Details of the settlement weren’t disclosed, but both companies said they were “pleased with the amicable resolution.”
But Bumble has remained Match Group’s biggest competitor and has become a multibillion-dollar behemoth in its own right.
In late 2019, after reports of Badoo’s history of drug-fueled parties and sexist behavior, Badoo founder Andreev sold his entire stake in MagicLab, the umbrella company for Badoo and Bumble, to the Blackstone Group. The deal valued the company at $3 billion.
By July 2020, MagicLab was renamed Bumble and Wolfe Herd was named CEO of the whole company, overseeing 750 employees worldwide. Wolfe Herd has retained a 19% stake in the company.
Now, as the pandemic continues to keep much of the world locked down, singles are flocking to dating apps, helping fuel the growth of both Bumble and Match Group’s suite of apps.
Match Group reported better-than-expected third-quarter earnings last November, particularly when it came to Tinder: the company saw revenue growth and an increase in subscribers in the third quarter, despite the pandemic.
“Tinder remains the highest grossing app in the Lifestyle category in ~100 countries and has grown direct revenue from essentially zero in 2014 to an expected nearly $1.4 billion this year,” the company wrote in its letter to shareholders.
Match Group also reported in its third-quarter earnings that Hinge subscriptions were up 82% last year and revenue had grown more than 200% year-over-year.
For Bumble’s part, Wolfe Herd told CNN’s Poppy Harlow on the “Boss Files” podcast that there have been some advantages to dating app users during the pandemic.
“More genuine connections are forming out of this, and people are really, you know, being secure in who they’re meeting before that eventual physical meet-up ever begins,” Wolfe Herd said.