January 21, 2016; Reuters
As previously reported by the NPQ Newswire, the mobile dating app Tinder served L.A.-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation with a “cease and desist” in September 2015. The sexual health advocacy nonprofit erected billboards with ads depicting two couples. Couple one links “Tinder” to the STI “chlamydia,” and couple two links “Grindr” and “gonorrhea.” Appearing in large text next to the couples is “FreeSTDCheck.org.”
The ad’s message clearly links STIs to mobile dating (or hook-up) sites—but this is not a proven fact. While rates of reports of STIs have increased, many attribute that rise in reports rise to better testing and awareness.
In a compromise to address the nonprofit’s concerns, Tinder has agreed to add a health and safety section to its app. The section will include a locator for nearby STI and HIV testing centers through Healthvana, a platform that connects patients to clinics. In the agreement forged between Tinder and AHF, the link to view centers nearby is placed at the very bottom of the “support” section on Tinder’s website. From there, users can connect to more information regarding STI transmissions, and take yet another link to Healthvana’s website, which provides a list of health centers.
While a productive step forward, the addition of the STI testing center to the app may not be as useful as it seems. Healthvana’s website offers a far-from-comprehensive list of clinics and STI testing centers, and its focus is on centers near urban areas, leaving rural users to continue to find testing sites on their own. (Sexual encounters in rural areas are among some of the riskiest, so the ability to obtain confidential and non-judgmental STI screenings is essential, especially in communities where anonymity can be hard to come by.) While Healthvana does deliver results digitally, rural clinics that are not a part of Healthvana’s network would be excluded. Further, while Tinder has been called “the largest dating app in the world,” Healthvana’s reach is limited to the U.S., preventing an entire subset of users from receiving adequate information.
Tinder’s use of electronic dissemination of information is on par with CDC guidelines for helping address increasing rates of STIs: “concentrating research efforts to better identify and address specific challenges…developing educational resources for providers to engage them in sexual health services, and improving efforts to offer more culturally relevant care.” However, had they acted in partnership, Tinder and the AIDS Healthcare Foundation could have taken a further step that addresses two known facts: STI rates for adolescents and youth are on the rise, and mobile dating apps target younger users.
If AHF and Tinder had managed to collaborate using the expertise of both, it might have led to revolutionary ways to market routine testing as “cool.” A partnership could have brought a way to engage users in comprehensive and routine testing. Consider the development of an API or other software component that would incorporate constant, clear, and targeted STI awareness campaigns into Tinder itself. Or one that delivered localized recourses with the help of, say, Google Maps. Through building an additional app, or perhaps by creating a more complex interface, Tinder could have worked to connect, automate, and deliver health awareness and education with targeted STI and HIV messages.
As it stands, the five-step process for finding information and testing centers is unlikely to capture many young Tinder users, but it is a step in the right direction. The future of testing needs to be inclusive and easily accessible for all users. Building a mobile interface is one thing, but engaging participants in using the resources is a different challenge.—Stacey Burton Alcocer