No Shirt, No Shoes, No Problem: Grindr Now Allows Underwear Profile Pics
As of last week, Grindr has a new set of Community Guidelines. For the most part, our rules are the same as they always have been, though we include more detail and transparency. However, there is one pretty big difference: we now allow you to post a photo of yourself in your underwear on your Grindr profile.
Why did we do this? As the new Senior Director of Customer Experience at Grindr, it’s my job to make sure that our user’s experience is a great one. In digging into our data, I saw that 25% of photos uploaded on Grindr were being rejected and over half of those were being rejected for being too sexual.
While our photo policies are largely governed by the app store rules from Apple (see App Store Review Guidelines 1.1.14) and Google (see Google Play Store Developer Program Policy on “Sexual Content and Profanity”) around indecency, Grindr is known for being a sex-positive app. Our marketing materials can be sexy, our users like to talk about sex and use Grindr to hook up, and we can all agree there should be no shame in that. It’s clear that many of our users expect to be able to upload sexy photos and have them approved, and so there were real feelings of frustration and confusion when that didn’t happen.
Here’s a public app review of ours:
Sad FB and Instagram aren't as strict with their policies as you are. I can't even upload a pic with just above the waist because I may be naked! It's BS and even underwear?!?! Come on, FB and Instagram allow that.
Even worse, I was also seeing feedback that enforcement of the photo rules felt arbitrary. People were noticing that their photo was rejected, but would see someone else’s similar photo approved. At best, this was frustrating, and at worst, it was being attributed to racism, body shaming, transphobia, or other types of bias from Grindr and Grindr moderators.
Here’s another public app review:
The most prejudiced dating app I've been on. Every time I make a profile with a shirtless pic my pix are constantly deleted because they are inappropriate, but there are countless guys of other ethnicities in their underwear and shirtless in their profiles. Just doesn't add up to me.
I want to be perfectly clear on this point: at Grindr, we are committed to diversity and inclusion in every way, and this extends to our moderation policies and training. We actively work to make our policy easy to understand and enforce objectively. Reviews like this that assume bias and ill-intent were a call to action—something had to change.
So what was actually causing this issue? The answer is simple, but mundane. In content moderation, there are a lot of grey areas and judgement calls. Not every photo will neatly fit into a rule, and so you create more rules and guidance for moderators so that they know what to do. Unfortunately, it’s easy to back yourself into a corner with this, and before you know it, you have incredibly detailed micro-rules for your internal team that are not at all intuitive or apparent to your users. You don’t see the forest for the trees.
As a concrete example, we allowed photos of swimwear while outside, but not photos of underwear inside. On one hand, this seems logical. Swimwear is appropriate in a public context, while underwear is more private. However, it doesn’t easily hold up. What if someone has two photos, one of them wearing swim trunks inside, and one outside. The photos show exactly the same amount of skin, and neither are sexually provocative. Do we allow both? Neither? Just one? What if there are two photos, and the one with swimwear outside is actually more revealing than the one of underwear inside?
By trying to create clarity, the end result was actually a set of rules that wasn’t intuitive anymore, so our users were assuming we were biased in our decision making. Once we identified that there was an issue here, we set about figuring out how to make a change that would seem intuitive and make sense to our users. We did some user research and talked to real users of our app. We looked at data about photo uploads and rejections. We talked to employees about what expectations we had internally. And then we rewrote the rules.
Now we allow almost all photos of people in their underwear (and yes, in towels). As we outline in our Community Guidelines, there are some basic decency expectations which apply to all photos, not just ones with underwear, like: no erections, no nudity, no sex acts, no pornographic poses, no extreme closeups of erogenous zones. This applies to all types of clothing, all gender presentations, and all situations indoor and outdoor. The spirit of the rule is clear, and the guidelines are more simple.
The outcome of this change is that we cut photo rejections in half, without any increase in flags for nudity or pornography from our users. That’s a big success, and I hope that by continuing to increase education about our rules and guidelines, we continue to close that gap further. There will always be some nuances and grey areas in our guidelines that require us to make a judgement call, but hopefully now we are more aligned with you—our users and our community.
That said, there is still work to be done. In addition to human moderation, we do use some automated machine learning systems, and mistakes are possible with both systems. You may see a photo on Grindr that got approved and shouldn’t have been. If this is the case, please flag it for us so we can take it down. We are also constantly improving our training materials for the moderation team, and are working hard to include more examples of different ethnicities, body types, and gender presentations. We are also working on creating specific anti-bias training for the moderation team.
Finally, there’s more that we can do about better communicating our guidelines, philosophies, and moderation practices with our community. We hope to continue to be more transparent and to earn your trust and confidence in our systems. Please keep an eye out for more updates from us in the future, and in the meantime, enjoy those underwear photos!
-Alice Hunsberger, Sr. Director of Customer Experience | LinkedIn