A new lawsuit says dating apps are addictive. Are Georgetown students immune?

Published April 2, 2024

Design by Deborah Han

In a lawsuit filed on Valentine’s Day, lawyers in San Francisco alleged that Match Group, designer of Tinder and Hinge, developed its dating apps to be addictive. Georgetown students’ reasons for using the app range from meeting people outside their campus to entertainment purposes, though college students in general are not the apps’ most frequent users, making it unclear the extent to which the apps affect them. 

The lawsuit claims that the company “intentionally designs the Platforms with addictive, game-like features, which lock users into a perpetual pay-to-play loop.” But college students generally use these apps infrequently, according to an Axios/Generation Lab survey. Just 12% reported using the most popular app, Tinder, at least once a month. 

Still, the apps add another variable to Georgetown’s complex dating landscape, which produces both life-long partnerships and confusing situationships. 

Some students use the apps for informational purposes, like figuring out who is single or, for LGBTQ+ users, who is also queer. Others use it to meet people beyond the Hilltop.

Sara Amar (CAS ’24), who uses the apps for fun with friends and to meet people outside of Georgetown, said that she doesn’t think Georgetown students are uniquely addicted to dating apps.

“I think the swiping part is probably addictive, but the talking to people isn’t really because it often fizzles out,” she wrote in a text to the Voice

She added that she thinks the apps have changed dating dynamics for young people, causing them to approach each other less in real life. But she also thinks that the apps can be an asset for those initiating an interaction. 

“With the dating apps, it’s like, you know that they’re single, you know that they’re looking for something because they’re on there, and so it’s not as disrespectful or presumptuous,” she said in an interview with the Voice

Like Amar, Dr. Shannon Brick, Assistant Teaching Professor of Communications, Culture, and Technology at Georgetown, also believes that the apps have changed dating dynamics, but is not sure how legal action can fix this change. The apps’ alleged practices of captivating user attention for as long as possible are increasingly common as business models, and technology regulation hasn’t fully tamed their effects. 

“I don’t feel super optimistic that suing them is gonna be effective. I don’t know how I feel about laws coming along and saying, ‘This is a deceptive or addictive design and we shouldn’t do it,’” she said.

Even if the apps have addictive properties, Brick questioned whether the outcome is necessarily harmful to users.

“Making a claim that these apps are addictive in the same way slot machines are addictive [is] hard because when you’re talking about dating apps, they are enabling us to meet people,” she said. “They are fostering human connection, and they are giving us something valuable back.”

The lawsuit, though, alleges that the apps overstate their ability to create in-person connections and are incentivized to turn users into long-term, paying subscribers. But Match Group denies this claim.

“Our business model is not based on advertising or engagement metrics. We actively strive to get people on dates every day and off our apps,” a Match Group spokesperson told NPR.

Regardless of the outcome of this lawsuit, Brick thinks that more opportunities to meet new people in real life can create a cultural shift that lessens the influence of the apps on the dating landscape. She places her hope in the creation of more social spaces or by individual initiative to spark conversation with strangers,

“I think we’ve all got the power. If we don’t want MatchGroup to have such power over our romantic lives, we can do something about it.”

Angelena Bougiamas
Angelena is a sophomore studying Political Economy from Queens, New York. She is a fan of print newsmagazines (duh), lemon tea (with honey) and humoring her father by finally updating this bio (hi dad!).

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