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World’s Most Infamous Hookup App Catches On In Islamist Iran

A recent report on The Guardian’s “Tehran Bureau” blog suggests that young Iranians are starting to bypass Internet controls and find love on the popular dating app Tinder.

The article, written by an anonymous British-Iranian, chronicles his attempts to meet women using Tinder during a two-week visit to Tehran. In that timespan, he finds 20 women on the other side of the app’s location-based matchmaking interface, and goes on to meet with two of them.

As they meet at trendy coffeeshops and public parks, he compares it to the in-person underground dating scene in Iran, which he says is just as “quick and callous.” In a country where interaction between unrelated men and women is officially discouraged, and yet women comprise over half of the university students, desperate and frantic mingling and intimacy generally take place behind closed doors. (RELATED: Iranians Welcome Obama To Official TV With Selfies)

While the man’s two dates openly discuss their challenges as sexually active and unmarried young women in Iran, he does not mention whether their interactions go beyond public conversation.

Iranian Internet and smartphone users have long been adept at using virtual private networks, proxy servers and other tools to bypass the government’s tight controls on communication, especially on politically or socially sensitive topics. The Guardian’s correspondent used a VPN that made his phone appear to connect through a British network, though his GPS coordinates still helped him connect with singles nearby.

Of course, Iranians’ subversion of internet controls first became famous in 2009, when Twitter became a platform for organizing the massive protests against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed electoral victory. (RELATED: Iranians Mock Official Attempts To Erase Ex-President)

Mobile phones are hugely popular in Iran, where there are more cellphone subscriptions than people. But the rate of smartphone penetration, is somewhere between 10 and 20 percent, meaning that any growth in Iranians’ Tinder habit is driven by a small, digitally savvy and socially permissive slice of the population.

Representatives from Tinder did not respond to requests for comment on the side of the app’s Iranian user base. The company’s cofounders, Sean Rad and Justin Mateen, are Jews whose families emigrated to California from Iran.

Tinder’s rise in Iran is just the latest bit of Middle Eastern news for the digital matchmaker. Last year, Egypt’s top Islamic lawgiving body issued a fatwa, a religious ruling, prohibiting Muslims from using any kind of instant online messaging. In particular, it criticized the practice of men sending photos to women, and vice versa.

And in Israel, a Tinder-inspired app called “Verona” hopes to make peace by matching Jews to Palestinians. A white, non-Jewish, non-Arab American from the Midwest, its developer Matthew Nolan has admitted to the Times of Israel that “I don’t think I ever could” understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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