By: Alex Praschma
As modern-day technology continues to evolve in our society, legal issues trail closely behind. To no surprise, this common phenomenon is no different when it comes to our culture’s fascination with mobile dating apps. If you have read recent news articles, you have probably heard of the app, Tinder, nicknamed the “dating apocalypse” and the “hook-up app.” Although older generations slap stigmas on the app’s influence on society, they cannot refute its growing popularity. According to an article in the New York Times, new research shows that there are roughly fifty million active Tinder users, who check their accounts about eleven times per day, and devote about ninety minutes of their day to their endeavors.
Tinder is a free, location based app that is said to bring convenience to the conventional dating scene that once entertained practices such as “courting.” To start, all you have to do is set up the app using your Facebook account, select a couple profile pictures, and compose a short bio about yourself. The app immediately presents you with photos of dozens of other singles based on your preferences and location. From there, you swipe to the right if you like the person, and to the left if you do not. If both users select each other, the app allows you to enter a one-on-one chat, and the future of the romantic interest is left to the thumbs of the users.
As of March 2nd, 2014, Tinder took their game to the next level by introducing “Tinder Plus,” which allows users to select farther geographical parameters, have access to unlimited swipes, and even use an undo button for mistaken swipes. However, these capabilities come with a price, as most premium services do. For users above the age of thirty, the cost of the services is $19.99 per month, while users under thirty are only required to pay a mere $9.99 per month. Legal issues broke the surface immediately after the app’s new pricing policy went public as users began to allege Tinder was employing age discrimination practices with their pricing and did so with the motive to deter older users.
On April 29th, 2014, Tinder was slapped with a class action suit in California Federal Court alleging that their mobile app’s pricing policy discriminates on the basis of age. In Manapol v. Tinder, et.al, 2:15-cv-03175, Plaintiff Michael Manapol alleges that in order for him to use “Tinder Plus,” he had to pay $19.99 per month simply because he was over the age of thirty. Supplementary to his allegations, Manapol asserts that Tinder violated the Unruh Civil Rights Act, which protects all persons against arbitrary and unreasonable discrimination by a business establishment (Unruh Civil Rights Act, Cal. Civ. Code §§ 51).
The objective of the Unruh Civil Rights Act is to prohibit businesses from engaging in “unreasonable, arbitrary or invidious discrimination.” The Unruh Civil Rights Act applies not only in situations where businesses exclude individuals altogether, but also where treatment is unequal. For purposes of the act, unequal treatment includes offering price discounts on an arbitrary basis to certain classes of individuals. To help Manapol’s case, the act notes that there is no requirement that the aggrieved party must demand equal treatment and be refused. Additionally, Manapol argues that Tinder’s pricing policy is analogous to free entrance to “Ladies Night” at bars, a practice deemed illegal by the California Supreme Court.
In response to the class action suit, Tinder’s spokeswoman interviewed with National Public Radio and stated, “During our testing we’ve learned, not surprisingly, that younger users are just as excited about Tinder Plus but are more budget constrained and need a lower price to pull the trigger.” From Tinder’s perspective, this is an extremely frustrating problem to have because if the only difference between your users is their budget, then usually you have to choose something else to focus on. The best alternative seems like it would be to try to find a feature, value metric, or add-on that you can differentiate for that customer with a higher willingness to pay. Furthermore, if the Unruh Civil Rights Act is interpreted liberally to afford protection in this case, it seems unlikely that Tinder will prevail unless they stipulate to the discrimination that they can somehow show that it was reasonably related to the services they perform. Based on the way the California Supreme Court approached the discriminatory practice of “ladies night,” it is likely that Manapol will prevail as this seems to be a pretty clear violation of the very statutes and laws set out to protect consumers from companies attempting to pull the wool over their eyes.
Alex is a staff member of the Journal of High Technology Law. He is currently a 2L at Suffolk Law with a concentration in Intellectual Property and is a Law Clerk at Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy, LLP. He holds a B.A. in Legal Studies from Ithaca College.