A dating app with a racist ad and an income filter is now on Apple's App Store

Key Points
  • Dating app HighBlood attracted furious criticism for a Facebook post that said "no banglas, no maids, no uglies"
  • The app was originally rejected by Apple's App Store, but that decision was reversed
  • Founder Herbert Eng said he has not received investor funding, but claimed the app has more than 500 sign-ups

A Facebook post promoting a dating app was so explicit about its racism and discriminatory stance on foreign workers that many around the world thought it may have been fake.

It's now available for some users on Apple's App Store.

Herbert Eng, the founder of Singapore-based dating app HighBlood, first made waves in March when he posted on Facebook an advertisement that read: "no banglas, no maids, no uglies ... Just. Pure. Quality. Like You."

The first category of allegedly undesirable people is a derogatory term for Bangladeshi workers in Singapore. The "maids" was referring to the large contingent of domestic helpers in the city-state.

Image: A since-deleted advertisement for the HighBlood dating app.

The post, which has been taken down, drew widespread scorn, prompting Eng to issue a public apology on Facebook. ("I humbly apologize if you had taken offense at our post," he wrote.)

Yet despite all of the blowback, Eng continued ahead with the app.

While HighBlood announced that the app would go into public beta last Friday, Eng said it hit a hurdle when it was rejected by Apple's App Store moderators because of what he called a "technicality."

"One of the regulations was that submitted apps cannot 'objectify people,'" he said in an email to CNBC.

The app moderator, Eng said, had deemed a submitted screenshot of HighBlood users voting on newcomers "too objectifying," but noted that the same principle is used in other dating apps.

But the decision was apparently reversed as the app was available to some iPhone users as of Thursday. Eng told CNBC the software would be "released into the wild" for the entire Apple and Google mobile ecosystems as early as next week.

The app will be available to users in public beta, he said in an email. People will be able to download it and send their credentials, such as school, profession or income, for verification.

Racist post was just 'mischief'

On Friday, Eng said multiple times that the app is "not racist," downplaying the discriminatory post as "a bit of mischief on my part."

He said that the administrators of the app "will not filter maids, banglas or uglies." Instead, he added, existing users will vote on whether a newcomer can join HighBlood — if newcomers don't get enough votes, they can pay an initial $20 to join.

Eng has also been touting HighBlood as the world's first accountant-verified dating app with an income filter. The app will verify three credentials, he claimed: school, profession and income. According to him, users can take photos of documents, such as income tax or pay statements, to verify their credentials.

Eng, a Nanyang Technological University graduate, justified those filters based on a market survey he said he conducted. In the report of 160 people about their preferred non-mandatory filters, 21 percent said they would want an income filter, and almost 56 percent called for a profession filter.

The HighBlood dating app, which apologized for a racist advertisement, is available on Apple's App Store.
Saheli Roy Choudhury | CNBC

Despite the dismal public opinion of the app, Eng said HighBlood has received 547 sign-ups. Investors however, have steered clear, and the platform is so-far funded entirely by Eng and his co-founder. They've put in $7,000 total, he said.

In his presentation last Friday, he also told the crowd that he expected HighBlood to break even in about 22 months. Revenue, he said, will come from people paying for premium subscriptions, as well as other features such as allowing users to pay to send a message to someone who did not match with them.

Eng's use of racism as a marketing tool may turn off many, but causing outrage is clearly his preferred methodology.

He tweeted in February: "[People] are so afraid of being offensive - the first differentiator you can leap into is to be offensive!"

The self-professed Trump supporter, who tweeted in June that he had been banned from dating site OkCupid, is fond of courting controversy.

He solicited nude photos for an art exhibition, which he called an "intellectual event" about the "unfiltered forms of humanity." That came to a halt, he told CNBC, because "there were not enough submissions to justify holding the expo."

Eng has also taken to social media to comment on Google's firing of James Damore, an employee who wrote a controversial memo arguing that differences in pay between men and women in tech aren't entirely related to bias, but are partly attributable to biology.

"Google caved in to mob pressure — but we won't," he posted on Facebook and Twitter.

His co-founder, Kylie Teo, told CNBC she joined the start-up in June. The 20-year-old student at the National University of Singapore said she was shocked by the Facebook post, and does not stand by it.

"The ad was Herbert's obsession with outrage marketing, he wanted people to face the controversies of society because he was rejected from society," Teo said, explaining that her co-founder had been "rejected by girls online and he's been catfished."

Catfishing is the practice of tricking someone on the internet by adopting a false identity. It is often associated with online romantic relationships.

Teo, who has experience running an e-commerce platform, said she does not receive a salary (and actually contributed to the funding) as she believes in his vision.

"Bad media is still media," she said.