case study: Online Dating Association

The Online Dating Association is the trade association and global voice in the online dating industry. Founded in 2014, the ODA was created to be a unifying force committed to setting industry standards and speaking out with one powerful voice. The ODA brings together the voices of dating services on key issues, creating briefs, underpinning campaigns, and creating conduits of information and feedback between its members and legislators/regulators.

This partnership of businesses is under threat on multiple counts from the dominance of Apple and Google over the App Stores. The CEO of the Online Dating Association, Dr Hannah Shimko, says the tech giants are stifling innovation, scaring competition away through retaliation and self-preferencing, crippling revenue through extortionate taxes, and putting user safety at risk.

Referencing the current environment, Shimko states: ‘it stops us from being able to work directly with our consumers and restricts us giving our customers a good deal’.

Suppression of Innovation

The ODA supports the vast array of dating websites in the industry, serving niches from farmers to hill runners to dog lovers, with many being the starting point for happy relationships across the world. However, most are unable to innovate into an app because it is not financially viable for them to build the app and pay commission to the app store owners, which acts as an artificially high barrier for entry. Developers are also used to engaging with their members, and their members with them, through the web platform. Apple and Google’s terms mean users would be forced to engage through Apple and Google, which has provided to be a big turn off, especially as this often means forced entry into a new (potentially alien) ecosystem. Thus, millions of users are missing out the mobile version of their favourite dating website, and potentially successful British brands missing out on innovating the marketplace.

Retaliation and self-preferencing.

For those taking the risk of converting web-based sites to apps, the threat of retaliation from Apple and Google is suffocating. This threat is preventing many SME dating services from speaking out against the current environment, proving the imbalance in voice in digital markets. The ODA provides safe spaces for developers and founders to share their concerns, one of which being the fear of being down-preferenced on the app stores, or even kicked off the stores entirely. Direct evidence of this can be seen when a small US dating app was offered a preferential place on the app store while Google and Match were amongst their litigation—it was implied this offer was because Match was being down-preferenced. This was also tied up with offering deals on Google advertising which is meant to be localised, but was being shown in Nigeria.

The scale of this problem on IOS and Android devices cannot be understated.

The App Tax

Possibly the most blatant, unfair transgression of Apple and Google comes from their criminal 15-30% tax on all developers wanting to host an app on their storefront. This is linked to the enforcement of using Apple and Google’s payment service. This fundamentally stops small companies from being able to work directly with consumers and restricts them from giving users a good deal. It’s bad for consumers, bad for business.

Imagine if a 30% tax was immediately levied on all brick-and-mortar businesses, overnight. Businesses would have no choice but to close up and move online, but the dating sector doesn’t have the option to move in-person. The current environment is stifling opportunities to grow, and stopping many innovators from reaching their full potential.

Safety, or a Lack of It

The government has already published its own voluntary ‘code of conduct’ for app stores and developers on privacy and safety, which lays the groundwork for a potential future arrangement. However, were this to be mandatory, Apple and Google could no longer use ‘security’ or ‘privacy’ as a reason they take commission or require use of their payments system, because it would be a mandate for all app stores operating in the UK. With more open access to the market, and less guardrails set by the gatekeepers, online dating services would be able to maintain the safety of users, as communication and control is kept with them, not Apple and Google.

Impact on the Consumer

This is an issue similar to that of the ‘high-street’ vs ‘the shopping centre/mall’. The shopping centre is like the app store, where there is security, privacy, and other perks available to the shops, but the rent is likely higher than other places. There isn’t a high street in the mobile ecosystem—no Government funded or maintained way for users to access apps (i.e. shops) they want. There is only sideloading, through the web/web apps, which we know aren’t as safe and aren’t vetted.

This is a clear and artificial limitation of business choice, and consequently consumer choice—which is harmful to both parties. In the current climate, Apple and Google wins, but everyone else loses.

Online Dating Association

It is bad for consumers, and bad for business."

other Case Studies

The App Store Limits Consumer Freedom

If consumers want to use a modern mobile device, Apple and Google levy taxes that no one can avoid. No competition, no options, no recourse. The Apple App Store and Google Play Store policies are prisons that consumers are required to pay for and that developers cannot escape.

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