Modern day matchmaking is big business, and the search for true love online has produced big data which is also deeply personal. While online and mobile dating platforms have reinvented the ways we can discover and connect with partners, they’ve also presented profound privacy and safety issues. So how much of our data is really out there? Where does the law stand with online dating? And what can we do to mitigate the risks?
Spying on Tinder: Private or Public Information?
Arguably one of the most popular (or notorious) dating apps in recent years, Tinder provides rapid-fire matching, meeting and hookups. For those addicted to swiping left and right, however, there may be a hidden vulnerability. As reported in the Guardian, “Swipebuster” is a paid service which allows anyone to spy on Tinder users.
According to the article, Swipebuster charges “$4.99 (£3.50) to let someone see whether the target is using Tinder, and can narrow down results by first name, age, gender and location.” While this may sound like a nefarious hacking app, the surprising truth is Swipebuster uses Tinder’s official API, the application programming interface used to communicate to third-party developers. Tinder objects to any accusations of leaky privacy controls, citing that the company considers information published on the platform as publicly available in profiles.
What Swipebuster highlights, however, is the disconnect between users’ expectations versus actual privacy on the platform. Just because a service deals in intimate details does not mean 100% of those details remain hidden from public view.
Even those who do believe their information is secure and private should consider the potential impact of a data breach. Consider the hack of the extramarital affair website, Ashley Madison, for example. While not all information shared on mainstream dating sites may be sensitive, some leaks can be devastating, exposing users to shaming or even blackmail.
The Law & Online Dating
“The law is not your chaperone,”
says this primer on what you need to know about online dating safety. While there are no Federal laws regulating online dating safety, there are states with bills in process regarding notices dating services must provide users, such as the presence or lack of background checks. You can learn more about states with online dating laws related to privacy and safety in this piece from DateCheckout.com.
While the vast majority of online dating platforms provide no background checks for your potential mates, dating services eHarmony, Match.com and Spark Networks (JDate and ChristianMingle) signed an agreement in 2012 with the California attorney general’s office to protect customers with online safety tools. The settlement terms include obligations to check subscribers against national sex offender registries and provide a rapid abuse reporting system for members.
Given the patchwork of laws and sweeping amount of information dating sites would like to collect from you under the auspices of finding your perfect match, it’s prudent to take responsibility for your privacy and your safety through education and discernment.
Resources for Safer Online Dating
Though there is always the potential for risk in getting to know people, it doesn’t mean we should mindlessly concede to power of dating platforms. Everyday people make meaningful connections thanks to this technology. The best we can do is engage our common sense and take steps to move deliberately and considerately. Here are some tips:
1. Challenge your assumptions about online dating privacy. The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s article “Six Heartbreaking Truths about Online Dating Privacy” might open your eyes to how long information about you is stored, potential security holes, what gets indexed publicly by Google, and how photos may be used to identify you. It’s also helpful to understand the economics behind online dating sites and why marketers are eager to have access to what you might share when looking for a romantic partner.
2. Read the advice given by dating services. Large companies such as Match.com have a vested interest in maintaining the quality of their service, and often publish safety tips. In this online guide, Match.com advises users what to be on alert for when using the site. Some of the most useful information includes looking out for red flags such as users claiming to be recently widowed, asking to chat on an outside email or messaging service, or requesting a physical address under the guise of sending gifts.
3. Understand the different types of scams. You might not realize how your information may expose you to threats. The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse website publishes a detailed fact sheet titled “The Perils and Pitfalls of Online Dating: How to Protect Yourself.” In addition to a crash course in how the sites work, it also exposes patterns scammers use to try and leverage connections on dating platforms.
5. Be mindful of how much you share. Just like social media, pause before you post. Oversharing is no guarantee your profile will be more effective. Ask yourself what seems necessary and what may be better shared in person.
Love and relationships are never without risk. This we know – we’ve all had our heart broken. But there’s no reason to make the search for your soulmate more fraught than it needs to be. Don’t be afraid to seek connection. Just do your best to protect your privacy along the way.