From Gender and Tech Resources
- 1 What are dating platforms?
- 2 Privacy policies of dating websites and apps
- 3 Information requested by the platforms
- 4 = Geolocation
- 5 Erasing your profile
- 6 Recomendations
- 7 Useful reading
What are dating platforms?
Dating websites and apps are widely used, but can often put their users at risk. Dating websites and apps collect large amounts of highly sensitive information from their users - consciously in some cases, for example age, physical characteristics and photos, and in some cases unknowingly, for example geo-location to show people nearby. This guide covers the basic issues you should be aware of when you use a dating website or app.
Dating platforms are pages or applications oriented to facilitate meeting and encounters with other people, sometimes with the purpose of finding a partner or engage into sexual encounters. Usually these services are databases that collect information from users through a profile that can contain personal data, images, locations. There are many types of dating platforms, and all have different interfaces and features. Some are free and others offer payment options which in some cases enlarge the possibility to view more profiles. Sometimes, the use of free platforms implies that users that no not provide a lot of personal data get restrained in their possibilities to view and access other profiles.
Broadly speaking these platforms are divided into two types: those that work through matching and those that focus on dating. "Matching" platforms seek to link profiles of users that are compatible, so they request a large amount of information about their preferences, customs, personal characteristics, hobbies, social status, etc. Platforms that concentrate on dating do not request so much personal and identity information because they focus more on the physical aspects and the immediate encounter between two persons. In both cases, platform's databases can be organized through users 'preferences (who choose other users) or algorithmically, based on the users' registered criteria.
There are platforms that work as web pages and others like mobile phone apps. Some even combine both options. The expansion of these platforms through mobile apps has been a supplement to the services previously offered through websites, and has made the interaction with those platforms (and their users) constant, emphasizing a lot in their geolocation.
Privacy policies of dating websites and apps
Dating website and apps frequently change their privacy policies and often without informing their users. If you've joined one or more dating websites or apps check the privacy policies regularly.
Data Storage - many websites store sensitive data unencrypted so third parties can easily access it. Many dating services will also state that the data will be shared with third parties
Intellectual property: Many dating services will claim ownership on any images uploaded and often the data entered when configured to their system.
Account deletion: Many dating services will not commit to removing all your data when you close or delete your account.
Information requested by the platforms
Gender, sexual orientation and practices
Many of these platforms require you to enter a binary gender (you can only be male or female). If they are oriented towards gay men and/or lesbians, a gender identity is always requested, almost always offering only binary options.
Any information on gender and sexual choices is of course highly sensitive, particularly in contexts where LGBTQI prcactices are illegal or would harm the user if publicly known.
Images and avatars
Several dating platforms require photos (sometimes through profiles of other social networks, such as Facebook) to join or to access other profiles.
Many platforms also use accounts from other services, such as Facebook, to create a profile. For these services, it is often not clear how much profile information is accessed from other services. Some apps incorporate much more information from say Facebook than the user may have been informed about when signing up, for example videos shared in other commercial platforms (such as Youtube or Vimeo), or pages that have been marked with likes. You can read more on the privacy risks on the mobile dating apps.
Many dating websites, and especially dating phone apps, access your location so you can meet other people nearby in real time. This may be the desired outcome, but sharing detailed and current location data could put people at risk of being located by anyone. This information could potentially reveal a person's physical address, their movements and routine. Many apps allow you to detect the exact location from the triangulation of a profile (sometimes even when the exact geolocation option is turned off), making it easy to find a person behind a specific profile.
The data from online dating services can be used both for "legal" surveillance (governments, police forces, judiciary among others), or for illegal and malicious purposes (harassment, crime, robbery, sexual assault among others). All the information obtained through these platforms could also be used for the purpose of extorting the user. You can read more information on these risks in the following article “Privacy Risks in Mobile Dating Apps”.
Other data that can be extracted
Sensitive personal data in dating websites and apps is not just of interest to legal authorities and criminals, however, it can also be accessed by advertisers and data brokers.
Because virtually all dating services do not encrypt their data , third parties are able to access and collect information such as a user's device information, its operating system, the installed applications, its location, its internet provider, even sometimes the user's credit card details and potentially much more.
By linking with other services, dating websites and apps can enable other companies to cross reference your personal data with other services to build a more detailed social profile of you to understand "what you need". An example could be the possible relationship between fertility and menstrual applications and dating applications; through knowing your hormonal cycles, third parties could send you advertising information for a specific point in your menstrual cycle.
Furthermore, it is possible that your information could be used to blackmail you. Platforms sometimes can not control what they make available. One example of this was Tinder more information than they should, you an read about it here. There was also the hack of the Ashley Madison extra-martial dating website. Users were blackmailed to prevent their personal data and activities on the website being published, you can read more here.
Erasing your profile
Although many dating services offer the possibility of deleting your profile, they often do not ensure the removal of the information immediately and many will keep that data indefinitely. In general, platforms place the responsibility for privacy onto the users themselves as they are generally very unclear about the limitations of their own privacy policies.
In the current state of privacy policies (which could change at any time), developers should consider the different types of sensitive data being collected and stored on mobile devices that could be subject to unauthorized access (whether physical or remotely), and evaluate how this data could be more protected.
For example, encrypting sensitive information stored on a mobile phone, although not offering complete protection, will at least provide an extra layer of security against physical attack. Providers could also implement technical procedures to detect incorrect storage of sensitive data on mobile devices during the app's initial validation process. But as underlined before, the ultimate responsibility currently lies with the users, who must protect themselves from apps that store their sensitive information without appropriate security and privacy measures. Users should be cautious when selecting apps, particularly those they use to store and transmit personal information.
When you create a profile on a dating platform, try to protect your identity and personal information as much as possible
- Choose a username that does not let anyone know who you are. Do not include your last name or information such as your place of work, address of your house, etc.
- If possible do not include your personal e-mail or your phone number in your profile.
- Only upload photos you are comfortable sharing with anyone, anywhere.
Regarding passwords and your security when using these platforms:
- Be careful when you access the platforms from a shared device, and also be careful if you log in using public wi-fi since third parties could intercept your data.
- Do not open attachments that have been sent to you by unknown people (or that you have recently met through the platform)
Regarding how to communicate with new contacts
- After contacting someone suggest using another chat app with that person as soon as possible. Look for an encrypted tool, for example Signal
Once you are using a secure chat app, you can follow some recommendations of the collective Coding Rights
- Use secure channels: You need an app based on free software that offers encryption at all levels, which allows you to block screenshots, send images that self-destruct on both the device from which they were sent and on the server, do not ask for a related phone number, a real name or an email. Unfortunately the app that does all the above does not exist yet. Keep that in mind.
- Use your head: Do not sext via SMS, Whatsapp, Telegram, Facebook or Tinder, as those platforms enable you to be identified and your pictures to be downloaded. Wickr, for example, encrypts end-to-end and causes the photos to be erased after being viewed. However Wickr is not open source so its code can not be audited and reviewed. Last but not least, do not synchronize your dating apps with any social network.
- And Telegram?: Although it is safer than other apps, it saves your photos for 24 hours on the server and also requires you to register.
- Who can see me naked ?: Basically governments and private companies (especially if they have servers) can. And, in addition, if you use a public WiFi, anyone who knows how to intercept WiFi traffic.
- Erase or hide well: Saving encrypted photos is a good security measure, but deleting photos is a better option. Remember that your mobile stores photos in different folders, so use programs like CC Cleaner to erase pictures. Remember that your mobile can be lost and can fall into the wrong hands, so doing a general erasure/cleaning from time to time is a good idea. If you decide to save your photos, remember that PGP suite allows you to encrypt them securely.
- Ask for help: If your photos become public without your consent, you will need to take action. Sometimes it is enough to send an email to the server that hosts the page, in other situations you may need to look for a lawyer. But above all, seek help of trusted friends. Check the following websites for further information about what to do withoutmyconsent.org and takebackthetech.net/know-more.
Security comparison from Electronic Frontier Foundation: https://www.eff.org/es/deeplinks/2012/02/comparing-privacy-and-security-online-dating-sites
Nguyen Phong HOANG, Yasuhito ASANO, Masatoshi YOSHIKAWA, "Your Neighbors Are My Spies: Location and other Privacy Concerns in LBGT-focused Location-based Dating Applications" https://arxiv.org/pdf/1604.08235v1.pdf
Security comparison for dating platforms in USA between 2005 and 2013: http://www.secretintelligenceservice.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/PIP_Online-Dating-2013.pdf
Margaret Feltz "The Security of Tinder. A Mobile App That May Be More Intimate Than We Thought": http://www.cs.tufts.edu/comp/116/archive/fall2015/mfeltz.pdf
2.- Bumble, feminist alternative? http://www.semana.com/gente/articulo/tinder-su-competencia-feminista/439477-3
6.- Wapa (before called Brenda) https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.wapoapp.wapa&hl=es_419