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New study says dating apps are racist, recommends redesigns to be more inclusive

A new study by Cornell University says dating apps that allow racial filters are discriminatory, and recommends platform redesigns. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

A new study conducted by researchers at Cornell University has determined that dating apps, which allow users to search for prospective partners using racial filters or algorithms, are racist and should be redesigned, the Daily Mail reports.

What are the details?

The paper, titled "Debiasing Desire: Addressing Bias and Discrimination on Intimate Platforms" asserts that racial divisions and biases are reinforced by apps that give romance seekers the option to narrow their pool of dates by such preferences.

Lead author Jevan Hutson explained, "Serendipity is lost when people are able to filter other people out. Dating platforms have the opportunity to disrupt particular social structures, but you lose those benefits when you have design features that allow you to remove people who are different than you."

According to Cornell's Melanie Lefkowitz, Hutson will join his co-authors in presenting at the ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing on Nov. 6, where they will present app design suggestions that "could decrease bias against people of all marginalized groups, including disabled or transgender people."

Lefkowitz reports that African-American men and women are 10 times more likely to message white people on apps, than the other way around.

"Letting users search, sort and filter potential partners by race not only allows people to easily act on discriminatory preferences, it stops them from connecting with partners they may not have realized they'd like," she wrote.

Hutson went on to make his case further, saying, "A random bar in North Dakota with 10 customers a day is subject to more civil rights directives than a platform that has nine million people visiting every day. That's an imbalance that doesn't make sense."

What is the resistance to racial filters?

While the authors of "Debiasing Desire" don't anticipate dating apps will be regulated any time soon, several platforms have already voluntarily incorporated non-discrimination policies into their designs and user agreements.

Some apps base matches according to compatibility in political views, education and relationship background, omitting race metrics altogether. But many platforms are resistant to do away with racial filters, arguing that they are a useful tool.

Landen Zumwalt, head of communications for gay dating app Grindr, told The Guardian last year, "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."

On the other hand, dating apps are facing pushback from some minority users, who say that allowing the omission of entire racial or ethnic groups from a search doesn't give them a fair shake at finding a mate.

Grindr user Sinakhone Keodara is suing the platform for racial discrimination, arguing that he has been subjected to racist abuse from other users because of his Asian heritage.

"You run across these profiles that say, 'no Asians' or 'I'm not attracted to Asians.' Seeing that all the time is grating; it affects your self-esteem," Keodara said.

"I'm a paying user. They need to create a level playing field," Keodara argued to The Guardian. "Why should I pay for my own oppression? If I'm paying $14.99 every month, why should I have to be subjected to this demeaning, degrading and undignified BS."

Anything else?

In July, Keodara announced on social media that he is seeking co-plaintiffs from all 50 states to join him in a class action lawsuit against Grindr for allowing white users to have statements on their profiles such as "I don't find Asians attractive" or "Not interested in Asians."

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