A software developer from Vancouver, British Columbia, has used Tinder's private API to automate his online dating. The dating app, like so many popular apps, has seen its internal, private API reverse engineered and employed by third parties. Unauthorized users of Tinder's API commonly use it to create "Tinderbots" that interact with the service and other users, but Justin Long's Tinderbot looks to be one of the most ambitious Tinderbot creations.
On his blog, Long explained how over the course of three weeks he implemented Tinderbox, a bot that "builds facial models using your likes/dislikes" and then can select appropriate matches automatically on a user's behalf. But Tinderbox goes even further than that:
The bot that runs in the background also has a messaging system that starts conversations. Using StanfordNLP, the bot analyzes the sentiment of each chat response and classifies it as positive or negative. Using a "message tree," … the bot selects from pre-programmed chat messages as a response based on the sender's sentiment. This continues up to 3 replies until the user is notified that a chat is ready to enter. The advantage of this? It removes the time involved in filtering new Tinder matches since a lot of people tend to drop off and "go dark" early in the process. Extended conversation is a strong indicator of interest.
According to Long, the bot is "amazingly effective" and has led to more than 10 real-world dates. When he informed his dates that they were initially courted by a computer program, responses ranged from disbelief to intrigue. As for the possibility that Tinderbox is creepy, Long insists that his dates weren't completely turned off. "All were in agreement that it is not creepy, though some felt it was borderline," he said.
The Dark Side of Unofficial API Usage
It's unlikely that Tinder is going to express support for Tinderbox, which is available on GitHub under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 license. Tinderbots have been a thorn in the side of the popular dating app, as they are often used for nefarious purposes such as spamming. While Long's creation may not be ill-intentioned, the widespread use of bots is arguably a threat to Tinder's existence. After all, if Tinder users can't be sure that they're interacting with real human beings, many of them might go elsewhere.
So what can Tinder do? Thwarting unauthorized use of private APIs has proved challenging for many companies. Some, like Snapchat, have experienced modest success by getting app stores to kick out offending apps, but not all applications using reverse engineered private APIs are distributed through app stores. And where there's opportunity for gain, monetary or otherwise, there will always be motivated individuals looking to hack the system.
For a service like Tinder, that means that if it's going to defeat profiteers and tech-savvy daters, it will probably have to focus less on stopping unauthorized use of its API and more on identifying human versus nonhuman API usage patterns.