Looking for Love Online? Be Aware of the Risks.


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Copyright © 2012-2014
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
Posted August 27, 2012

Online dating is a growing industry in the United States, increasing in popularity and profits every year. An estimated 40 million Americans have tried online dating and dating sites will collectively gross $2 billion in 2012. The proliferation of dating sites has become a cultural phenomenon as millions of users flock to find romantic partners online.

In order to match you with others, online dating services collect data about you through forms, quizzes, preference questions, and even blood tests. This data may include:

- your age- drinking behavior
- sex- hobbies
- education- income
- profession- religion
- number of children- ethnicity
- religion- drug use
- geographic location- where you work
- sexual proclivities- where you live

After crunching the numbers using an algorithm, they’ll give you a list of people they think you may be compatible with. The services may make additional money by selling the data for marketing or advertising purposes.

Once an online dating service has your information, it has it for keeps. Even after you cancel your account, most dating sites retain your information.

Beyond data collection, retention and sharing, there are other risks that you will want to consider including rip-off scams, sexual predators, and damage to your reputation.

We discuss all of these and more in our new consumer guide, Fact Sheet 37: The Perils and Pitfalls of Online Dating: How to Protect Yourself.

If you're looking for love online, here are six tips to help protect your privacy:

  1. Read the dating site's terms of service and privacy notice. Does the site provide online security (HTTPS)? Can you delete your data when you close the account? Does it share or sell your data to advertisers or other third-parties? What parts of your profile does it make public by default?  What types of privacy setting and options does it offer to users?

  2. Share photographs with caution. Digital photos may contain metadata that can reveal where and when the image was captured. If this data gets into the wrong hands, it can be used maliciously. Sending or posting a scanned photo is a simple way to ensure there is no metadata associated with a JPEG image. Priveasy.com offers tutorials with step-by-step instructions on how to disable geotagging on your iPhone camera or Android camera.

  3. Consider getting a free e-mail account specifically for online dating purposes (from Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, etc.). This will allow you to reveal information about yourself gradually and appropriately. Better yet, if your dating service offers a blind e-mail service, you should take advantage of this option.

  4. Respect your instincts. Trust your doubts about prospective dates who don't resemble their pictures, people with frightening personalities, and nagging suspicions that someone is being dishonest. Don't provide your full name, address and phone number until you have enough information about your prospective date to feel safe.

  5. If you see something, say something. If a company misuses your data, if you don’t like a privacy policy, if a website does something creepy or weird, speak up. Say something. Contact the site to clarify its practices and to register dissatisfaction. Post on Facebook. Tweet. File a complaint with the FTC.  Contact the PRC and ask us for additional resources. Make some noise.

  6. Don't post anything you wouldn't want to see on the front page of the newspaper. Keep in mind that everything you say about yourself online stays online, for better or worse.

Again, for more information about online dating and how to protect your privacy, read Fact Sheet 37: The Perils and Pitfalls of Online Dating: How to Protect Yourself.

Copyright © Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. This copyrighted document may be copied and distributed for nonprofit, educational purposes only. For distribution, see our copyright and reprint guidelines. The text of this document may not be altered without express authorization of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.


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