Forget WeChat, the social network of the moment in China is a dating app for people seeking “sugar daddies” or “sugar babies.”
SeekingArrangement (SA), an American dating service, has taken over the top spot for free social networking apps in China’s iOS App Store. According to data firm App Annie, the controversial dating app earned the top spot for the first time on Tuesday (May 22), moving up 765 places in the ranking that shows the most downloaded iOS apps over the past two days. By comparison, the app only ranks in 63rd place in the same chart in the US.
SA was founded in 2006 by MIT graduate Brandon Wade, who said, “Love is a concept invented by poor people.” The service provides pay-to-play relationships usually between older, wealthier men, and young women. It claims to have more than 10 million active users worldwide, with a sugar-daddy-to-baby ratio of 1:4.
The sudden popularity of SA in China is of note, both because the country remains relatively sexually conservative and because the government is ramping up its crackdown on online services that have even slightly sexually suggestive content. But sugar dating (also known as “compensated dating”), has become more visible in news reports in recent years, with some cases involving minors and older partners who were arrested for alleged prostitution (link in Chinese).
It’s unclear what led to the recent spike in downloads of SA’s Chinese app, which was launched in October 2015. The Chinese site and app rebrands sugar daddies/mommas as “successful people,” and sugar babies as “charming sweethearts.” An SA spokesperson told online outlet Red Star News (link in Chinese) that the company aims to build a “high-end marriage and love social platform” for Chinese users, separate from the sugar-dating market overseas.
Authorities don’t seem particularly convinced by SA’s attempt re-brand itself. According to multiple Chinese media reports, SA’s official account on popular social-network app WeChat has been suspended for “illegal” operations. Yufa Information Technology, a Shanghai-based firm in charge of SA’s China business and its WeChat account, has also been added to an official list of companies with “abnormal businesses,” according to the country’s official corporate registration site (link in Chinese). SA didn’t immediately reply to Quartz’s request for comment.
“Emergency exposure! This notorious ‘compensated dating’ website from the West has landed in China!” wrote the Global Times (link in Chinese), a state tabloid, in the headline of a blog post about SA’s Chinese service. “China rejects such an overseas company that ‘objectifies women’ and challenges public orders and morals of the society!” it said.
“Please don’t be misled by some extreme reports in the media,” SA said on its Chinese site, adding that its China service is an “independent” brand.