If you’re looking to find a date in 2019, you’re in luck. Dozens of apps and sites exist for this sole purpose – Bumble, Tinder, OKCupid, Match, to name a few. Your next partner could be just a swipe away! But that’s not all; your personal data is likewise a swipe or click away from falling into the hands of cyber criminals (or other creeps).
Online dating, while certainly more popular and acceptable now than it was a decade ago, can be risky. There are top-of-mind risks—does s/he look like their photo? Could this person be a predator?—as well as less prominent (albeit equally important) concerns surrounding data privacy. What, if anything, do your dating apps and sites do to protect your personal data? How hackable are these apps, is there an API where 3rd parties (or hackers) can access your information, and what does that mean for your safety?
Privacy? What Privacy?
A cursory glance at popular dating apps’ privacy policies aren’t exactly comforting. For example, Tinder states, “you should not expect that your personal information, chats, or other communications will always remain secure.” Bumble isn’t much better (“We cannot guarantee the security of your personal data while it is being transmitted to our site and any transmission is at your own risk”) and neither is OKCupid (“As with all technology companies, although we take steps to secure your information, we do not promise, and you should not expect, that your personal information will always remain secure”).
Granted, these are just a few examples, but they paint a concerning picture. These apps and sites house massive amounts of sensitive data—names, locations, birth dates, email addresses, personal interests, and even health statuses—and don’t accept liability for security breaches.
If you’re thinking, “these types of hacks or lapses in privacy aren’t common, there’s no need to panic,” you’re sadly mistaken.
The fact is, dating sites and apps have a history of being hacked. In 2015, Ashley Madison, a site for “affairs and discreet married dating,” was notoriously hacked and nearly 37 million customers’ private data was published by hackers.
The following year, BeautifulPeople.com was hacked and the responsible cyber criminals sold the data of 1.1 million users, including personal habits, weight, height, eye color, job, education and more, online. Then there’s the AdultFriendFinder hack, Tinder profile scraping, Jack’d data exposure, and now the very shady practice of data brokers selling online data profiles by the millions.
In other words, between the apparent lack of protection and cyber criminals vying to get a hold of such personal data—whether to sell it for profit, publicly embarrass users, steal identities or build a profile on individuals for compromise—the opportunity and motivation to hack dating apps are high.
Dating is hard enough as it is, without the threat of data breaches. So how can you best protect yourself?
First thing’s first: Before you sign up for an app, conduct your due diligence. Does your app use SSL-encrypted data transfers? Does it share your data with third parties? Does it authorize through Facebook (which lacks a certificate verification)? Does the company accept any liability to protect your data?
Once you’ve joined a dating app or site, beware of what personal information you share. Oversharing details (education level, job, social media handles, contact information, religion, hobbies, information about your kids, etc.), especially when combined with geo-matching, allows creepy would-be daters to build a playbook on how to target or blackmail you. And if that data is breached and sold or otherwise publicly released, your reputation and safety could be at risk.
Likewise, switch up your profile photos. Because so many apps are connected via Facebook, using the same picture across social platforms lets potential criminals connect the dots and identify you, even if you use an anonymous handle.
Finally, you should use a VPN and ensure your mobile device is up-to-date with security features so that you mitigate cyber risks while you’re swiping left or right.
It’s always better to be safe and secure than sorry.