Mark Brooks, a consultant to Internet dating sites, points out that men tend to use location-based dating features more than women, and that location-based dating apps are most often used by singles in big cities, such as Boston and New York. What’s more, the singles that use them are using them all the time. “People don’t view as many pages on their mobile dating apps as they do when they’re looking at profiles at home, but they’re logging in as many as eight times a day,” says Brooks. Singles are checking their phones at the office, waiting in line at the Registry of Motor Vehicles, riding the bus. Kevin Cassidy, a 43-year-old straight single male living in New Hampshire, says he was recently at the Downtown Lounge in Portland, Maine, grabbing a drink after leaving a friend’s house. “I didn’t talk to anyone at the bar. I pulled out my phone and began scanning through OkCupid Locals,” he says. “It’s become habit.”
The science suggests that users of location-based dating apps may improve their chances of finding a compatible partner, says Northwestern’s Finkel. Research shows that people can glean more about compatibility from a five-minute meeting than by reading dozens of two-dimensional profiles. (Remember, those studies that show it’s perceived similarities that predict relationship success, not actual similarities?) Which means the faster you get face to face with someone, the faster you can decide whether you might be a match. And that’s exactly what these apps aim to help you do.
Though location-based dating apps have their devotees, they haven’t caught fire in the straight community quite like Grindr has among gay men. Many industry executives admit that they can’t seem to clear one major hurdle: The GPS function in the apps makes some women nervous.
Women, it turns out, are just not as comfortable revealing their location as men are. Call it the stalker syndrome. They worry that someone will figure out where they live or follow them home. Even Foursquare, the wildly popular app that allows people to “check in” to their location, doesn’t attract as many women as men. Women may have reason to be nervous. In June, Skout, a flirting app that is a huge hit among young people, put a ban on teenage users after three cases of sexual assault were reported earlier this year — in each case, children met adult males posing as teenagers. Skout just reopened the site to teens after putting new safety measures in place.
Another app, called Girls Around Me, accessed Foursquare location data to show where single women were checking in, and then offered up a link to each woman’s Facebook page. When Foursquare realized how its data were being used, it cut off the app’s access.
Dating industry executives say they have safeguards in place to protect users. Many apps allow you to control how much information others can see about you, including how specific your location information is, and even let you turn off the GPS entirely. But some apps, like SinglesAroundMe, can pinpoint your location down to the street you’re standing on, if you choose. Others, like OkCupid, give you a ballpark idea of how close someone is to you. “It startled me at first,” says Keyse Angelo, a 32-year-old woman in Jamaica Plain who has used OkCupid Locals. “I quickly turned the GPS off.”
In response, some apps have blurred location information altogether. It’s why Angelo likes HowAboutWe’s dating app. If you live in Newton but you’re in the South End and want to suggest a date, other singles in the South End will know you’re there, but your location will be listed as “Newton.” The app also discourages people from listing times that they’ll be places, such as “Im heading to Minibar in Back Bay at 7pm. Martini?” HowAboutWe’s Schildkrout thinks that level of detail is “scary.”
Jackie Benowitz, 22, used MeetMoi in the months after she graduated from Brandeis University and plans to use it when she moves to New York in the fall. “I was looking for an edgy dating app,” she says. At Brandeis, she’d recognize people from their OkCupid profiles while walking to class. “It’s the same people over and over again,” she says. Benowitz usually leaves her GPS locator off, but when dropping off a friend at Tufts this summer, she activated it and immediately got a “push notification’’ — essentially a pop-up message — that there were two single guys nearby. She responded to the one she thought was cute, and because he was also in Davis Square, they were sitting across from each other within a few minutes. “I didn’t know him at all, but I felt like I did, since we had been messaging for a few minutes and I saw his picture,” she says. They chatted for an hour, realized there was no spark, and politely said their goodbyes. She says she never felt unsafe — she liked the spontaneity. Continued...