Earlier this month, when Tinder users across the UAE logged onto the app on their phones to engage in a little bit of swiping left and right, as they’ve been doing for more than a year, no pictures loaded onto the popular app.
While pictures have occasionally loaded onto the phones of du subscribers in the ensuing days, for the most part the photo-based app widely used for dating and meeting new friends has become a no-go.
One disappointed Tinder user is Blake Ryder, an accounting manager from the United States who has been living in Dubai for four years.
“I was really bummed out when I saw that it wasn’t working properly anymore,” said Ryder, 35. “You can get on the app, but you can’t see any pictures, which kind of defeats the whole purpose. You need to see people’s pictures to decide which way you’re going to swipe.”
The way Tinder works is devastatingly simple. The app downloads onto smartphones in seconds, using GPS to pinpoint locations within a specified radius of between one and 100 kilometres.
It then accesses the user’s Facebook account to create a Tinder profile, made up of first name, age and several photos.
Tinder then finds potential matches of other Tinder users within the specified proximity, via pictures that can be narrowed down by age and distance. Swiping left means a quiet rejection: the person is never notified. Swiping right means “like”. If two people swipe right, it’s a match that enables messaging.
Chances are, if you’re single, you’re on Tinder. If you’re married, you’ve helped your single friends swipe through the realms of potential dates. It’s free, it promises instant results and is available in 24 languages, not including Arabic.
Tinder's co-founder and chief executive Sean Rad told Forbes in October that people now swipe through 1.2 billion Tinder profiles a day, with more than 15 million matches made daily. The app, he said, "is used in every country around the world".
However, in an email last week Rosette Pambakian, the vice-president of communications for Tinder, confirmed the app is not functioning as intended in the UAE.
“We actually just learnt that a phone provider there has blocked Tinder,” she said. “We are currently looking into it.”
When contacted by The National, the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, Etisalat and du did not respond to requests for commenton the issue.
However the Tinder app (and website, on which pictures are also blocked) does fall within the area of items that are not allowed to operate in the UAE, such as dating websites.
Ryder said most of his friends are as upset as he is about the development.
“Something like Tinder is something we needed here,” he said. “It’s honestly about meeting people, which we all want to do more of in a transient place like the UAE. A lot of the women I met on there have now become friends that I hang out with, so it’s not just about dating. I mean, sure, you might land a date, but you might also land a real friend.”
There is no mention of dating in the “About” section, either: “Tinder is the fun way to connect with new and interesting people around you.”
Recognising that it may not have been approved in the UAE, some of the people who spoke about their Tinder use asked to do so anonymously.
Among those who were using the app to meet people, not necessarily date them, are a married couple living in Dubai who use Tinder when they travel.
“We travelled to Chicago a few months ago and we used Tinder to make matches in the area where we were staying at then struck up conversations to ask about where we should go out and eat in that area,” they said. “We made some unexpected friends, nothing more.”
Not everyone, however, is lamenting the apparent end of the app locally.
A Syrian art director of advertising who has been living in Abu Dhabi for 10 years says he is “glad” it has been flagged, because he felt it was increasingly being used for prostitution.
“It’s become so much harder to just meet a normal, genuine girl through Tinder because of that,” he said. “They ruined it, it’s become disgusting.”
Still, he does admit that Tinder solved what can be a big problem for single people in the UAE.
“In this country, it’s a little hard for men and women to meet, you can’t just approach a girl in the street or the coffee shop or in the mall, you can get in trouble, and you don’t want to just meet girls in bars – that’s not the kind of girl I was looking for.”
Another local user – a Palestinian-American woman living in Abu Dhabi – had deleted Tinder off her phone months ago.
“There were too many weirdos out there,” says the administrative assistant. “Sure, I met a few guys who were OK, but most were weirdos. My married friend is the one who told me about it and told me I should download it, she had heard about how people at the Olympics were using it to hook up. I was looking to meet Arabs but when I joined in April last year, everyone on it was mostly westerners.”
The 43-year-old said that although she didn’t care about Tinder anymore, she was still disappointed to hear it had been blocked.
“It’s upsetting that things keep getting blocked; I don’t see what’s so bad about it.”