Online dating has become extremely popular. According to Statistics Brain, as many as 17% of last year’s marriages were people who have met online. Not surprising in a digital age.
Like any other social network, online dating sites come with their own risks, maybe even more because of the very personal nature of the information you are giving away. For example, dating sites have a much higher record of maintaining your data even after you have canceled your profile. They do this in case you come back. Not sure what that says about their confidence in how well their matching works. Additionally, almost all of them use your data for research. Christian Rudder, the founder of OK Cupid, wrote a fascinating book called Dataclysm that discusses all the data collected from personal profiles on their dating site. It includes insights on how people say they’ll date various racial backgrounds and ages, but they really only select profiles in a much smaller demographic.
I thought I’d do some digging and read through the Terms & Conditions from several popular sites. I found some juicy examples of privacy policies below.
For reference, PII stands for Personally Identifiable Information.
eHarmony – a popular site where users fill out a 400 question survey and are matched together according to an algorithm that analyzes their answers.
”In addition, from time to time, we may share PII (such as e-mail or mailing address) about our user base with carefully selected third parties, so they can offer goods and services that we believe may be of interest to our users.”
Translation: We are happy to sell your email and mailing address for loads of money. We don’t care how much spam you get. Did we says how much money we make? We guarantee nothing.
Ashley Madison – their tagline is “life is short. Have an affair.” They have millions of married members seeking discreet affairs. You may remember them from the of summer 2015 when their databases, and member's names, were leaked. Somehow, they are still popular.
In their "defense," their old terms and conditions said:
“You acknowledge that although we strive to maintain the necessary safeguards to protect your personal data, we cannot ensure the security or privacy of information you provide through the Internet and your email messages.”
Translation: Though we tried to create a private website, the internet is well, the internet, and we guarantee nothing.
They have since removed this. Now we get this one:
"We may disclose and sell PII in connection with the sale, assignment, or other transfer of the business or a portion of the business of our Website, including a corporate merger, consolidation, restructuring, sale of assets or other corporate change of our direct or indirect parent companies that affects us."
Translation: If some unsuspecting company is willing to buy us out, they can have your data and do what they want with it. We guarantee nothing.
Grindr – a site that allows gay men to find other gay men in their geographic proximity using geolocation.
“The Grindr App user interface may include a feature to make certain items of Profile Information non-public, in which case we will respect your selection. However, even if you choose to make non-public certain items of your Profile Information if and as permitted by the user interface, sophisticated users who use the Grindr App in an unauthorized manner may nevertheless be able to obtain this information.”
Translation: We wrote some spiffy software to protect your data, but there are smart hackers out there so we guarantee nothing.
OK Cupid – a service which suggests matches but allows you to rank people you like.
“You should appreciate that all information submitted on the Website might potentially be publicly accessible.”
Translation: We’re not stupid, we saw what happened to Ashley Madison. We Guarantee nothing.
Bottom line? None of these sites ensure that your messages are private, nor that your location or profile information are secure.
If you (or someone you know) are one of the millions who are using online dating sites, here are some tips to protect yourself and your data so that you can enjoy a safe experience.
1. Turn off geolocation on your posted pictures
If your profile picture was taken with geolocation, or geotagging, turned on then the image contains data with the location where you took it, which could be your home. Turn it off on your device before taking photos you plan to post.
2. Read your terms and conditions
I know, it can be a drag, but there is a lot of personal information on a dating site and even if you think it is anonymous, your picture or email address could one day get linked to you and you want to make sure you are comfortable with what they may do to your data or pictures. Most of the T&C I looked through were actually fairly short so take a look. But ultimately, they guarantee nothing ;)
3. Use a throw-away email account
Your email address is tied to the account so now is a great time to create a ‘throw-away’ which is a new email address that you use just for that site. That way there are no ties back to your other accounts online.
4. Avoid signing in via another site
Be wary of signing in via Facebook Connect or Google+. This typically permits the dating site to access all of your info on that social network and thereby removes any anonymity you may have had.
5. Carefully consider nude photos
These could come back to haunt you. All photos online should be considered permanent. Be careful what you are sending online and who you are sending it to.
Stay safe, have fun, and happy dating!