As the popularity of dating apps continues to rise, so do concerns around the privacy and security of users’ data. More and more online love seekers acknowledge the risk of scams, fraud, and identity theft. It is being ranked among the top concerns by subscribers. But when there is a demand there’s supply.

When AI is looking for (verified) love

To prevent the challenge of fake profiles, abuses, and fraud, a British-based company launched a dating app that requires the use of a full biometric ID and contains AI-powered image moderation technology to verify a profile’s true identity. They fake the identity issue so seriously that as a requirement to log in to the service, every new subscriber must first identify themselves via a digital ID verification service whose clients include the NHS, the Post Office, the NUS, and other retailers.

While some companies are taking a proactive approach to prioritize identity verification and integrity, it appears that others prioritize revenue over their users’ privacy.

My App, My Data, My Terms of Use

Keeping users’ private data by the application suppliers doesn’t always happen, as some were caught in recent years selling users’ data without their consent.

In 2018 the popular dating app “Grindr” was admitted to sharing its users’ HIV status information with third-party organizations. Moreover, In 2020, a Norwegian Consumer Protection Authority report revealed that after scanning popular apps using a free online tool provided by the  French non-profit organization Exodus Privacy), many dating apps, including Tinder and Grindr, sold their users’ private data to third parties with commercial interest with the user’s awareness. According to the report, the multitude of violations of fundamental rights is happening at a rate of billions of times per second, all in the name of profiling and targeting advertising.

This situation is particularly concerning for geosocial dating apps, especially those aimed at the LGBTQ community, as they create norms of oversharing personal information. In an article by Ari Ezra Waldman, Professor of Law and Computer Science at Northeastern University School of Law, he portrays how this oversharing culture creates a clear incentive for hackers and malicious actors to exploit users’ personal data. The lack of sufficient protection and liability enforcement under current privacy and internet laws allows for the public disclosure of non-consensual intimate content, commonly referred to as “Revenge Porn”. This creates a dangerous incentive for malicious actors and potential hackers to continue publishing such content.

Due Diligence before Wine

Online dating also poses a darker side with dangerous consequences, such as meeting someone who may harm you. For instance, there have been reports of hate groups in certain Eastern European countries pretending to be LGBTQ community members to lure others into a meeting, leading to physical assault and online shaming. In 1997, an Israeli high school student was murdered by terrorists after being tempted by a woman he had been chatting with on ICQ.

Given the potential risks of an online affair gone bad, it is essential to take some precautions and gather objective information about the person you intend to interact with.

There are various practical checkups to indicate whether your potential date is legitimate or suspicious. Some internet red flags to look out for include a low number of connections on various social media platforms, signs of profile activity such as pictures, posts, comments, shares, and engagement with his or her friend list. It is also recommended to use a reverse image search on your match profile picture to rule out an association with a different profile. Additionally, some social behavior to watch out for include verifying the areas of interest mentioned in your match’s profile by casually asking about them. For those in the paranoid department, there are more advanced alarm bells to consider, such as cross-referencing other people tagged in pictures of your date and checking their profile to see if they also store pictures of your match.

Love in practice: Two cents from a cyberdating veteran

  • The American Federal Trade Commission has a few useful tips and common practices to alert of:
    • Talk to friends or family about a new love interest and pay attention if they’re concerned.
    • Try a reverse image search of profile pictures. If the details don’t match up, it’s a scam.
  • The American Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) recommends always double-checking a person’s identity before meeting face-to-face. A great available method to do so is by using a “Reverse Image Search” tool to ensure the person’s picture on the profile does not below someone else. To perform a reverse image search on profile photos:
    • Right-click on the image and select “Search for an image.”
    • Right-click again and select “Save image as” to save the photo to your device.
    • Using a search engine, choose the small camera icon to upload the saved image into the search engine.

Spread Love – not Blood

The convenience of online dating and socializing can be appealing. Ultimately, as adults, the choice of who we connect with depends on our best judgment. However, it’s always wise to exercise some basic due diligence methods, share our findings with people we trust, and take necessary precautions. And remember, sometimes it’s just better to randomly meet a person at the local coffee place, university, or via common acquittance.

Peace and Love to you and your digital self.

Read Part I | Read Part II