Tinder CEO on data privacy: 'We don't sell data'

JP Mangalindan
Chief Tech Correspondent

Data privacy remains a hot-button topic for the tech industry, but Tinder CEO Elie Seidman wants to assure users of the popular dating app that the data used in their profiles is safe from the kinds of risks that affected up to 87 million Facebook (FB) users involved in the Cambridge Analytica controversy.

The one key difference Seidman emphasized between Facebook and his company: Tinder does not rely on advertising and the personal data that comes with that revenue stream.

‘We don’t sell data’

Facebook dropped a bombshell on Tuesday at its F8 conference when it announced a new dating service aimed at people seeking longer-term, “meaningful” relationships. It’s a potentially smart move, given the social network can tap into its gargantuan 2.2 billion-strong user base. However, the timing could have been better, given Facebook is still recovering from revelations that Cambridge Analytica, a data analytics firm, harvested the data of up to 87 million Facebook users without their explicit consent.

Regardless, news of a Facebook dating service apparently spooked investors in Tinder’s parent company, Match Group (MTCH), sending the company’s stock down nearly 24% this week.

“We don’t have a lot of the data complexity, and we don’t sell data,” Seidman told Yahoo Finance during an exclusive onstage interview on Thursday at the Collision Conference in New Orleans.

Unlike Facebook, which generates the majority of its revenues from advertising on desktop and mobile, Tinder gets the majority of its revenues from paid premium services — specifically Tinder Gold and Plus — that offer additional features, including Passport, which lets users start swiping matches in a location before they actually arrive, Rewind, which takes back a swipe a user didn’t mean to make, and an unlimited number of Likes.

Alignment with Tinder’s audience

“We are aligned with our audience,” Seidman explained. “Our members are paying us, and I think that’s a really important idea, which is that we make money if our members have a better experience. That is literally all we think about day in and day out. That’s a really big difference.”

To be fair, Facebook tightened up its terms of service back in 2014 — roughly a year after Cambridge Analytica potentially received Facebook user data — and clamped down on the amount of information third-party developers can obtain about users, as well as their friends. The social network has also made significant strides since news of the Cambridge Analytica scandal first broke in mid-March, which includes conducting a thorough, ongoing audit of thousands of third-party developers who may have had access to Facebook user data in a similar fashion.

While Tinder has long since offered the option for new users to quickly set up a Tinder profile by logging in with their Facebook accounts, Seidman emphasized Facebook is just one of several sources a user can tap into to create a profile, and even then, Tinder only pulls a small, limited amount of that user’s data with their consent: a profile photo, for instance. Tinder also gives new users the option of creating a new profile from scratch without having to sync up their Facebook accounts at all.

However, the Cambridge Analytica controversy raised larger concerns, particularly on Capitol Hill, that tech companies in general must have strict rules that protect and shield users from having their data potentially mishandled once again.

As Tinder competes with Facebook’s dating service, data privacy may well be one way for the app distinguish itself.

JP Mangalindan is the Chief Tech Correspondent for Yahoo Finance covering the intersection of tech and business. Email story tips and musings to jpm@oath.com. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

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