Tools and platforms tend to receive the most scrutiny when it’s discovered that they have been exploited for explicitly political purposes, whether with the company’s overt or tacit cooperation. But other times, the functionality of the tech itself becomes political, though the ethos of neutrality remains.
Yaron’s story in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz notes that, when approached for comment on the issue, Tinder referred the author to Google, which did not respond
Services like Tinder, for example, rely on geolocation data that is contextualized by maps, which are themselves geopolitical interpretations that are often hotly contested. This is especially true in regions like Israel and Palestine, where territories are disputed. For instance, a 2018 report by the Palestinian digital rights organization 7amleh (pronounced “hamleh”) outlined a number of ways that Google Maps, one of the largest digital mapping services in the world, imposes what it calls “the Israeli government narrative” on the landscape of the West Bank. The report notes that Israeli settlements in the territory, which exist in violation of the Geneva convention, are shown as part of Israel, though the term “West Bank” appears on the map as well. It also points out that the app doesn’t mark military checkpoints-army roadblocks that restrict movement within the West Bank and between the West Bank and Israel-and that its navigation defaults to routes that only Israelis are allowed to access, decisions by Google that the reports’ writers argued prioritize Israelis, endanger Palestinian users, and remove evidence of the occupation from the map. In an emailed response to WIRED, a Google spokesperson wrote that the company is committed to displaying disputed territories objectively.
In 2017, Amitay Dan, a cybersecurity researcher in Israel, discovered that Google’s mapping of contested areas also impacts the functionality of Tinder Passport. The premium feature allows users to choose their location and match with people in other parts of the world. While experimenting with the feature, Dan noticed that the app returned a “No location found” notification when he tried to change his location to anywhere within the Palestinian territories. To this day, searching for cities and towns within a disputed territory will return this error message. Users can swipe from their selected destination, but the location name will still appear as a blank space within the app. Dan brought his discovery to journalist Oded Yaron, who observed the examine the link same was true within other disputed regions, like Northern Cyprus. “The topic is like fire,” Dan tells me. “They don’t want to touch it.” Tinder did not respond to WIRED’s requests for comment.
As a result, in the occupied West Bank the ability of different populations to use Tinder’s service to talk to and meet geographically proximate people varies, largely along ethnic lines
On the ground, the particular geopolitical situation of Israel and Palestine, with its checkpoints and patchwork of territorial designations, also shapes who uses Tinder’s service and how. Although the interface includes no explicit mention of the separation barrier aside from a dashed gray line to indicate a disputed border, users in the region face a significant obstacle: When Palestinians and Jewish Israelis do match, there is often no legal way for them to meet without leaving the country entirely, despite their geographic proximity when swiping. Israelis can cross the Green Line to travel on segregated roads to Israeli settlements, but not to Palestinian cities or villages. Palestinians in the West Bank, meanwhile, cannot cross the Green Line at all without a permit, which can be exceedingly difficult to obtain. Palestinians who do have a Jerusalem ID or hold Israeli citizenship can travel freely in Israel and Palestine to go on dates when they find a match.