Modern dating apps offer a convenient method to meet people (hopefully) searching for similar relationships but this form of digital matchmaking is not without potential problems.
An Outside Perspective
Having never used a dating app to connect with
anyone, I find them a little dehumanising in the way they boil people down to
statistics and worrisome because they allow users to create their own profile
for potential partners.
In the past, video dating was often the butt of
jokes or comedy sketches but the business itself seemed to filter people
according to who they actually were rather than who they claimed to be.
I’m sure this was far from universal but as far
as I can tell, when a bald, overweight man signed up, he was coached to not
claim he was an athlete with a full head of hair!
In fact, in the early days, customers would need
to meet the company in person to record their videos and in the process, verify
who they claimed to be.
Today, people seem free to make any kind of
claim on their dating profiles and the term ‘Catfishing’ – where people use
photographs and fake identities – has become well known and synonymous with
As a result, the multi-functional mask of
digital distance has created an all-too useful tool for countless crimes or
horrific acts under the cover of online anonymity.
As an observer, I worry that online dating is
all too easy to take advantage of and is sure to attract many types of
low-lifes and bad actors, not least con artists for whom these apps are rich pickings
filled with potential victims.
Into The Matrix
To find out more, I first spoke with friends who
use apps like Tinder, Bumble, Plenty of Fish, Facebook, and Grindr.
Most were looking for potential relationships,
but all seemed open to short encounters or hook-ups (incidentally, not all of
the people I spoke with were male).
From this, I learned that dishonest or vague
profiles and bots were the most common annoyance with trolls or assholes being
the worst types of people (so far) encountered.
But for the most part, their experiences were similar.
While few had found a long-term relationship, they enjoyed the format and felt
it to be a good way to meet people.
I spent a few days exploring each app and soon
learned how they offered paid services to remove ads or add better
functionality to the experience.
I might characterise some of these tactics as
sharp practice and remain curious to learn if premium membership offers any
benefits in terms of online security or perhaps even advantages for online
scammers but that’s a much deeper rabbit hole (I’m always available if app
developers want to learn how vulnerable their platform is to deception).
This was just a casual tour through each service
to gain an understanding of the opportunities they present to con artists or
hustlers and as I swiped my way through each app, reading as many profiles as I
could, the potential for scammers became obvious.
Too Much Information
There’s nothing clever about the biggest problem
I found; in fact, it was disappointingly predictable.
People give away far too many details about who
they are, what they do, where they live and how they might be contacted (or
physically located) by strangers.
Any profile that was longer than a few lines
tended to give away much more than anyone should be comfortable sharing with
I also saw interesting trends in the people I
swiped past in terms of job trends, stated interests, habits and information
about close family, pets or living situation.
If I were a real con artist, I could profile
users (male and female) and categorise them for different kinds of scams like a
buffet of potential victims.
I’m not here to recommend you don’t use these
services or to propose a fix for these problems (though I can think of several
ways to better protect users and offer a more effective matchmaking service)
I’d just like to advocate a little caution on your part.
Most dating sites will ask you for a variety of
details and while my natural paranoia balks even at the basic stuff (since it
can all be used to profile people) it’s in the personal descriptions where many
people provide dangerous insights into their lives and location.
I’m the last person who should tell anyone how
to write an effective dating service description that’s guaranteed to attract
the perfect mate but please take a moment to consider the possibility that
someone you’d rather never have connect with might use that description to
search for and find key data that most of us should keep private.
I’m also not advocating falsehoods since this is
an arena where honesty might be rewarded by genuine life-changing relationships,
though it should be pointed out that the dating scene in all of its guises has
been replete with liars, takers and manipulators seeking (mostly) one thing.
On The Road
People use these apps while traveling, which
opens up other concerns.
Hustlers in big tourist towns or convention cities prey on transient victims with everything from old school con games to blackmail scams, so be aware that while these crooks may be the minority of real people on any particular service, they are definitely out there.
One of my friends travels for a living and spends a great deal of time playing poker and blackjack.
In his travels he has found Tinder (and other
apps) to be a great way to make connections but as he observed, most people who
use these services on the road are not seeking long-term relationships.
This means (to me) that anyone local who is
willing to engage is either aware of the short-term nature of such encounters,
naive or could be a potential scammer trawling for targets with a variety of
I See Your Bot
By simply being aware enough to be cautious,
users have a better chance of avoiding the anti-lottery of online scams and
scammers but not everyone who signs up for a dating app – or indeed any kind of
interactive media – has the necessary knowledge to filter out potential
This is the only explanation for how so many bots seem to be active on every platform, each attempting a poor variation on the Turing Test that somehow works on real humans.
These bots often initiate chats in order to
propose offline contact away from the security measures of the app being used.
This becomes an effective filtration system to
weed out the wary and to collect more susceptible potential victims eager to
connect using alternate software that might expose them to all manners of
A bot may seem blazingly obvious to you but with
the right programming and objective-oriented dialogue, you’d be surprised how
many people can be fooled by pre-determined chat.
As another friend observed, that’s pretty much
how successful (human) daters operate; re-using lines of conversation that had
the desired effect in the past.
Just Be Careful
None of this is to advocate away from any method
that might bring people together for their mutual benefit but whenever such a
thing exists – from a singles bar to a dating app – scammers will always be
attracted like moths to a flame and it’s in all our best interests to step
lightly and verify that people are who and what they claim.
I could dig much deeper into this topic but if
the apps themselves would be more pro-active about informing their customers to
keep them safe, scammers would find far fewer victims online.
The more people understand about the dangers of over-sharing personal data, the better for everyone.