Five dating app dilemmas answered by experts | Dating | #whatsapp | #lovescams | #phonescams


In an online wild west populated by scammers and hackers, dating apps pose challenges beyond just finding a partner. It’s getting harder to tell if your date is who they say they are, and that’s before you consider the data security and privacy implications of using the apps on your smartphone.

It’s difficult to maintain privacy when apps such as Hinge, Tinder and Bumble need to collect data to match you with potential dates. Then there’s the data you share with other users – including your sexual orientation, age and social media information – that could put you at risk if it gets into the wrong hands.

Here’s what you need to know about using dating apps safely and privately, while still getting the most out of them.

Should you use your real name in your profile?

When creating a dating profile, you’ll need to display some information for potential matches to see. But it’s pretty easy to track someone down online if you know their first name and occupation, and you might not be comfortable with this.

Thankfully, most dating apps cater for people who wish to maintain some level of online privacy. Bumble, for example, allows you to use initials, shortened versions of your name, or nicknames.

To show others you are genuine and allow you to weed out some scammers, many apps offer the ability for you to verify your photos via biometrics. Bumble uses artificial intelligence (AI) for verification, which shows up as a blue shield on someone’s profile.

However, this type of verification only proves the verification selfie and the profile pictures are of the same individual – other details on the profile could be false. To take a well-known example, Netflix’s “Tinder Swindler” Shimon Hayut used real photos of himself and would have evaded these checks.

Hinge claims that data collection is necessary to keep users safe by monitoring behaviour.
Hinge claims that data collection is necessary to keep users safe by monitoring behaviour. Photograph: opturadesign/Alamy

For additional privacy, RAINN, a US-based nonprofit organisation focusing on protecting people from sexual violence, advises using different photos from your social media pages on your dating profile: “It’s easy to do a reverse image search with Google. If your dating profile has a photo that also shows up on your Instagram or Facebook account, it will be easier for someone to find you on social media.”

Be careful not to post any personal details such as where you work out or your address. Match Group, which owns Hinge and Tinder, advises being “vague” when setting up your profile. Once you are chatting to people, never provide financial information to anyone, a spokeswoman at Match Group warns.

Pros and cons of moving conversations to WhatsApp

Dating apps don’t include end-to-end encryption – the gold standard of security protection that means no one can read your messages, even the app maker itself – but messaging app WhatsApp does. Does this mean it’s better and more private to move your conversations to WhatsApp?

Not really. While your WhatsApp messages will be completely private, it’s not as easy to root out any bad behaviour, which dating apps are good at monitoring to help you stay safe. Bumble and Match recommend keeping conversations within the app so they can monitor any harassment or other bad behaviour.

The Online Dating Association also recommends you remain on the dating service until you feel you know the person you’ve been matched with, and ideally after you’ve met them in person. “Dating services have processes to deal with anything harmful happening in a conversation,” says Hannah Shimko, communications and policy director at the Online Dating Association. “In our research, we see the majority of romance fraud taking place on WhatsApp or via text message once the conversation has moved off the dating service and the scammer has freedom to manipulate.”

Dating app safety features include Bumble’s “private detector”, which uses AI to detect and blur nude images. Meanwhile, Match Group uses AI to proactively detect language that could be harmful. If something is detected in a message, a feature asks: “Does this bother you?” and encourages you to report it.

You can easily block and report people through most dating apps, before and after you are matched with them.

WhatsApp allows you to block people too, but there are other things to consider. Moving to WhatsApp requires exchanging phone numbers, which may be trackable via search engines or social media platforms, says Jake Moore, global cybersecurity adviser at Slovakia-based company ESET. “It is very important to keep conversations within the platform until you are confident.”

It’s possible to link your social media accounts to dating apps, but should you do this? Most experts think sharing information about your life requires a careful approach. It’s “very unwise” to link your social media accounts to your dating profile, says Tom Gaffney, principal security expert at security company F-Secure.

a smartphone displaying the facebook logo is held up against a display of the meta logo on a white background
Cybersecurity specialists advise against logging into the dating apps via Facebook, which allows additional data harvesting to take place. Photograph: Dado Ruvić/Reuters

Some apps already give you the option to limit sharing your entire social media profile, while exposing enough to let other users know you are genuine. For example, Bumble allows you to connect your Instagram, which will display your last 24 photos but won’t link out to your account, reveal your social handle, or display any other information such as captions or hashtags.

At the same time, logging in via Facebook is a definite no-no, because it allows additional data collection by the app, even if it’s not displayed publicly. “If you create a login with your Facebook account, apps such as Hinge can access Facebook data including your name, phone number and marital status,” says Gaffney.

With this in mind, create separate login details and usernames for your dating accounts using your mobile number or email address when possible.

How can I see how much data dating apps collect?

Dating apps can collect vast amounts of data and this is often shared with third parties such as advertisers.

Before signing up, it’s a good idea to go through your chosen app’s privacy policy and take into account what it will use your data for. Hinge’s privacy policy, for example, describes how collecting data is necessary for using the app and to keep you safe by monitoring behaviour. However, it also adds that your information can be used to “provide you with advertising that may be of interest to you”.

If you give it permission, the dating app can collect your geolocation data as well as photos and videos. This information can be shared within the Match Group companies.

Bumble’s privacy policy details similar data collection, including device identifiers, location based on your IP address and your age to share with advertisers.

Once you have signed up, one way of finding out the eye-watering amount of information an app has on you is a data subject access request. This is something that’s possible as part of EU and UK data protection regulation.

It’s a good idea to make a subject access request after you’ve been using an app for a few weeks, says James Walker, chief executive of consumer data action service Rightly. Once you’ve finished using the app, it’s best to send a deletion request. “Under EU regulation the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the company has to respond within a calendar month and confirm it has erased all the data it has about you,” Walker says.

What else can I do to stay secure and private?

Dating apps can be a security and privacy minefield, but there are steps you can take to stay safe. To protect yourself from hackers, it’s a good idea to use two-factor authentication such as an authenticator app in addition to strong passwords, plus a password manager if possible.

The dating sites themselves offer multiple features to help you stay safe. In Bumble, for instance, there is the option of using the app in “incognito mode”, which allows you to hide your profile and only appear to those whom you have swiped right on.

You should also look at the privacy settings to see what limits you can apply to your profile. Hinge users can customise their privacy settings to control what others see, while Bumble uses your location to help match you with people nearby, but you can turn this function off in the smartphone app privacy settings.

In the end, it’s a trade-off. In order to get the most functionality out of a dating app, you’ll have to give up some of your personal data to the app itself. It’s then down to you to limit the amount of data you provide to the dating app, as well as to potential matches.



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