By Sara Ashley O’Brien, CNN Business
(CNN) — The global coronavirus pandemic has made it harder for people to go on dates in the real world, which has given rise to a new normal: video dating.
Tinder is the latest dating service to add video capabilities to its app, making it easier to get to know matches without having to exchange more personal information such as phone numbers, e-mail addresses, or Zoom details.
On Wednesday, Tinder, which has been downloaded more than 340 million times, said it would begin testing its new “Face to Face” video feature within the app in Virginia, Illinois, Georgia and Colorado, as well as in a dozen other countries, including Australia, France, South Korea and Chile.
People can indicate they are interested in a video date on a match-by-match basis. If both parties say they are ready to video chat, the function will be unlocked within the chat. Unlike a regular video chat where the majority of the screen space is taken up by the person on the other line, Tinder’s Face to Face feature splits the screen equally between the two parties.
“No one should be put in the corner when it comes to getting to know a match,” said Tinder in a blog post about the feature. “Plus, this helps you make sure you’re putting your best face forward with your match.”
Tinder’s head of trust and safety product, Rory Kozoll, told CNN Business that, while the company had been “talking about doing a video feature on Tinder for years,” it had prioritized in-person safety measures.
“There’s a lot of valuable information you can get from a video call that you can’t get from texting or voice calls about how you vibe with a person and all that other stuff,” said Kozoll, who added that the service has recommended that people have a video call before meeting in person as a safety precaution for some time.
Several factors, spurred by the pandemic, led to the acceleration of adding video capabilities to the app, Kozoll said. Those included the newly apparent health risks of in-person meetups and the rapid rise of video as an acceptable, and oftentimes preferred, means of communicating with everyone from colleagues to friends and family.
Other dating apps have already incorporated the capability. Bumble launched a voice and video chat feature in June 2019, which allows women to call as soon as they match with someone; Hinge rolled out video capabilities globally in June 2020.
Before a video call, Tinder’s Face to Face feature prompts people to agree on some “ground rules,” pulled from its community guidelines: “Keep it PG: No nudity or sexual content. Keep it clean: No harassment, hate speech, violence or other illegal activity. Keep it age-appropriate: No content involving minors.”
It will be up to users to flag behavior if they become uncomfortable. Tinder said that for now, while testing the feature, it does not plan to record or archive video conversations.
“We kind of consider ourselves the hosts of a party … we’re having our friends over, we’re introducing people and we hope they hit it off. But it’s not our job to eavesdrop on every conversation,” Kozoll said. “Like any good host, we look to our friends at the party to let us know if something is going wrong, and if something is going wrong, that is when we’ll take action.”
While declining to get into specifics, Kozoll said the company is exploring technology that will “help us identify and clarify what’s going on” in video chats “with a privacy-forward approach, because we really believe in one-to-one calls there’s a consumer expectation that these are private calls.”
Tinder CEO Elie Seidman previously told CNN Business that the company’s plans to roll out video chat capabilities are part of its broader vision to create more digital hangout opportunities. He pointed to the company’s Swipe Night event last fall, which had people hanging out on Tinder at the same time to watch an interactive show and then discuss it with matches.