Grindr, a popular gay dating app, will remove ethnicity filters from its app, the company tweeted today. The decision is meant to show solidarity with protests in the US over police brutality against black women and men. The filters, which allow people to pay to avoid seeing people of certain ethnicities, will be removed in the next app update.
The ethnicity filters have been controversial for years, but they went unchanged even as Grindr launched an anti-racism campaign on the platform in 2018. That same year, Landen Zumwalt, Grindr’s former head of communications, told The Guardian that the company discussed removing the ethnicity filters but wasn’t ready to get rid of them. The team wanted to talk to its users first, he said, and the filters gave people in minority groups a chance to match more easily with one another.
“While I believe the ethnicity filter does promote racist behavior in the app, other minority groups use the filter because they want to quickly find other members of their minority community,” he said.
Other apps, including The League and Hinge, allow users to filter out people of certain ethnicities as well. The League CEO Amanda Bradford told The Verge in 2019 that these filters didn’t encourage racism and instead are useful for people of color to find people similar to them. She used an example of an Indian woman wanting to find an Indian man; the app’s filters are more effective and efficient than searching through thousands of profiles.
At the same time, researchers have found that people of color are rejected more often than white people on dating apps. The filters could allow people to continue to discriminate against people of color, enforcing racist attitudes. OkCupid published a report in 2014 that found, for example, white women were much less likely to be interested in black or Asian men.
Grindr’s removal of the filters might stop people from communicating their race preferences to the app, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be matching with people who look different from them. Their matching behaviors could still inform Grindr’s algorithms, too, because the app could learn from users’ behaviors, and if they don’t match with people of color, the app could learn to deprioritize those profiles. Algorithms learn racial bias across industries, so removing filters is only one step to making people of color’s experiences more pleasant and similar to white people’s.