Prior to 2020, millions of people in the U.S. and around the world were already using online dating tools like Match, Tinder, Bumble, and Grindr to find romance. When the global coronavirus pandemic made nonessential in-person interaction almost impossible, millions more turned to virtual dating through these popular mobile apps, and most will continue to use them even as traditional meeting spaces gradually start to reopen.
While it can feel less risky meeting and interacting with strangers behind the relative safety of a screen, online dating does open unique vulnerabilities to digital privacy and even physical security. If you’re already using online dating apps or considering doing so in the future, keep reading to learn about precautions you should be taking to minimize your exposure and protect yourself and your personal data.
Selecting an App that Protects Users
The most reputable dating apps have invested in infrastructure designed to protect users’ privacy and help them educate themselves about online safety. When considering which app or apps to use, look for the following features:
- Safety guidelines: High-caliber companies will not only acknowledge the potential safety risks of online dating, but also post safety tips and guidelines that have been specifically crafted with their platform in mind. This information should be easy to locate—ideally on the sign-up page, home page or dashboard.
- Complex sign-up process: If an app requires you to answer a lengthy series of questions about yourself when creating your profile, that’s actually a good sign, as it can help deter users from setting up fraudulent accounts. As a bonus, it can also increase the chances of you finding quality matches on the site. The most secure apps will take several steps to verify your account and the information you provide. Steer clear of apps and sites that require little more than a name, photo and email address.
- Reporting and blocking bad actors: Familiarize yourself with the process for blocking and reporting users who behave inappropriately. It should be simple, effective and easy to access on the app or website.
- Privacy settings: While the information you share on dating apps is more or less public, apps that provide users with added controls over who sees their information—and which information they see—offer additional peace of mind. Websites and apps that allow messages to flow freely without consent from both parties should be avoided.
- Fraud prevention: Find out what the app developer’s policy is regarding sharing consumer data with third parties. Look for an app that not only doesn’t sell users’ personal information to third parties, but also takes a robust approach to cybersecurity. Virtually all of the most popular dating apps—including Bumble, Tinder and OKCupid—have experienced data breaches in which their customers’ information was compromised. The best companies learn from these incidents and respond by enhancing their security protocols.
Setting Up a Secure Profile for your Digital Privacy
Once you’ve selected one or several dating apps, the precautions below can help you get started on secure footing with your digital privacy.
- When signing up, don’t use your social media profile or an existing email address. You can either create an email account expressly for use with dating apps and sites, or better yet, use a masked email service like Blur or FigLeaf. These browser add-ons create an alias email that forwards to your real email address, so marketers and scammers won’t have direct access to your real contact information.
- Be selective about the details you include in your profile. The information you provide will likely be used to target you with digital advertising; additionally, you don’t want to disclose too much information to random strangers on the internet. You can always share more once you get to know someone, but initially, don’t provide your full name, contact information or social media accounts. Now is also a good time to tighten the privacy settings on your social media, since you can count on potential matches searching for more information about you elsewhere online.
- Use new photos of yourself if possible, and avoid posting photos that you’ve already shared on other social media. A quick reverse image search online can easily lead dating app users to your wider web presence.
- Make sure the geography settings in your profile aren’t too specific. City and state are fine, but avoid disclosing information about the neighborhoods where you live and work in your public profile.
Cultivating Safe Conversations
Once you start matching with people, a few simple steps can help guard your digital privacy as you test the waters.
- Use the messaging system embedded in the app; it adds a layer of protection until you get to know someone well enough to give them additional access to your contact information.
- Create a Google Voice phone number exclusively for use on dating apps. It’s free, and you can forward calls to your real phone number to allow you to chat securely with potential dates.
- Check with any mutual friends you may share with a new match to learn about any potential red flags before you get too involved.
- Be cautious about sharing too many personal details in your initial conversations with people. As too many of us have learned the hard way, someone’s online persona and their real-life personality can be completely different, so move slowly at first. Avoid sharing private photos, use caution with video calls and never send money to anyone you haven’t met in person.
Our Final Thoughts on Digital Privacy While Online Dating
Even as life continues to approach the pre-pandemic “normal,” online dating apps are here to stay. Most of us know at least one couple that found each other online—and a growing number of us have already logged on to find love ourselves.
These digital tools can be a surprisingly effective method for meeting potential partners, but they can also create significant vulnerabilities around the security of our personal data. As you browse the dozens of dating sites and mobile apps promising to lead you to your perfect match, be sure to look beyond the slick marketing pitch to the fine print.
Before giving away any personal information in your pursuit of romance, find out exactly how your data will be used and what the app developers are doing to keep it safe. When chatting with new acquaintances, avoid disclosing too much too soon. Most importantly, follow your gut: If something sounds too good to be true or doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.