Photo: Emily Bowler
Even with nearly half the planet told to stay home, chatting people up has still found its way.Tinder recently celebrated over three billion swipes in a single day – its largest number of swipes yet. But as romance blossoms in our quarantine world, so comes the rise of the dating app’s antithesis: Cheaterbuster. The app, which lets you track whether your partner is active on Tinder, has seen a surge in usage. On April 2nd, usage was 25 percent above usual, with the peak beginning on March 21st. But with international lockdowns meaning face-to-face meetings are little more than a distant prospect, why is anyone on Tinder in the first place – let alone using it to cheat?
Jessica* works at an old people's home six days a week. She arrives at 6.30 AM, has her temperature checked, and is asked a list of questions about what she’s done over the past 24 hours. Her boyfriend, on the other hand, has spent all his time at home where he lives alone since the lockdown began. Jessica warned him she’d be busy at work and unable to see him. He responded: “‘I can’t wait for [it] to be over so we can go out again and spend time together.’”After three weeks Jessica says that her boyfriend started acting distant. 'Maybe it’s because we haven’t seen each other, he's upset,' she thought. Then one morning she woke up to a message from a friend. “I’m not sure but I think I saw your boyfriend on Tinder,” it said. The next thing Jessica did was download Cheaterbuster. His profile came up. “I freaked out, so I called him and I said, ‘You need to come to my house - right now.’” The pair sat in her car and talked. “He was crying and saying that he didn’t mean to and that it was an accident. ‘I was like no, you don’t download Tinder and start talking to girls by accident.’”Jessica kicked him out of the car. But he left his phone inside, so she nabbed the opportunity to look through it. “He had been messaging a few girls but it never really got past 'Oh hi, how are you?'” she says. “I bet he was just bored… but that’s still not a good excuse.” After four years of dating, she’s ended the relationship.
Cheaterbuster was launched in 2016 and is run by a small team in Mexico City. App creator Ernesto Reyes* – who wishes to remain anonymous as he's concerned he might receive blowback from cheaters – tells me he's a happily married man who wanted to make a statement about all the data that is publicly available: “We have such a detailed and nuanced digital footprint that anyone with a little bit of curiosity can find out a lot of stuff about you.”The app was only intended to go on long enough to generate media attention, but Ernesto says it got so much positive feedback that the team decided to keep running it. “We had a few hundred people write to us to say thanks,” he says.I asked Ernesto what he thought was behind the current rise in Cheaterbuster usage. “We have a saying in Mexico: 'la ociosidad es el madre de todos los vicios'. It means that idleness is the mother of all vices,” he said.Amy* had been isolating for several days alone in her apartment in New York when she decided to get out her phone and go through hers and her partner's old Tinder conversations. “I noticed he had all these new pictures of him… shirtless and all. I was like ‘Oh, that’s interesting.” She confronted him about it, and he promptly disappeared from her match list. “Either he deleted it or he unmatched me. I just wanted to find out for myself,” she says. “So I downloaded Cheaterbuster. It said his profile is still active.”
Amy and her partner are yet to resolve the issue, but in the meantime she says she’s been talking to people on Tinder and Bumble. “I’ve decided to go back to the dating apps just to see what’s out there,” says Amy. “But the conversations are different. Now we’re kinda forced to really engage and have these dialogues with other people.” she says. “It’s hard to talk to somebody in a different state and explain to them what it’s like to be in New York right now. They don’t know what it’s like to hear the ambulance sirens all day and all night.”Despite the clarity that scores of users have gained from Cheaterbuster, there is also a concern that it can give rise to compulsive, stalkerish behavior.At £7.99 a search, Adam* spent approximately £350 on Cheaterbuster within three months of downloading it. “I wanted updates all the time, at my worst multiple times a day, on whether she was using Tinder,” he says. “It got very expensive, and people should be cautious about becoming addicted to knowledge of their ex-partner.”Did knowing that his ex-girlfriend was using Tinder make it any easier for Adam? “I got some solace out of knowing that she was moving on. It removed a sense of uncertainty,” he says. “Was I sitting around pining for them whilst they were fucking someone else? Well, Cheaterbuster kind of made that clear for me.” He has since quit the app.When he created Cheaterbuster, Ernesto wanted to raise awareness of just how easy it is for others to access our seemingly private digital selves. When I asked him about how the era of COVID-19 might impact relationships, he had a few words of advice.“I’d say that to stay positive we must see this as a time to cleanse ourselves of the negative things affecting our life," he suggests. "Now is a great time to pause, look at our lives, and make the hard decisions that will make them better."Perhaps it is no surprise that your fingertips may find themselves wandering through match lists on yet another afternoon of being penned indoors, regardless of whether you're already dating or not. Just don’t be surprised if you’re caught swiping.* Name has been changed@frankiecmills