Fact Sheet 37:
The Perils and Pitfalls of Online Dating:
How to Protect Yourself


Send to PrinterSend to Printer


Copyright © 2012 - 2014
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
Posted August 2012
Revised March 2014

  1. Introduction
  2. Dating Sites Harvest Sensitive Personal Information
    1. The Data You Provide is Permanent
    2. Exploitation of Your Data
  3. Consumer Fraud and Misleading Promises
    1. How Effective is Online Dating?
  4. Risks of Online Dating
    1. Rip-off Scams
    2. Sexual Predators, Felons, and Stalkers
    3. Data Security
    4. Defamation, Discovery, and Damage to Your Reputation
    5. Shopping Mentality
  5. Recommendations
  6. Online Resources

 

1. Introduction


Online dating is a growing industry in the United States, increasing in popularity every year. The proliferation of dating sites has become a cultural phenomenon as millions of users flock to find romantic partners online.

Online dating is attractive for several reasons: the pool of eligible partners is large; it offers an alternative to relying on family and friends as matchmakers; people live longer and are more likely to seek new relationships later in life; and the increase in broadband access to the Internet has expanded the potential market. Baby boomers are the fastest growing demographic in the world of online dating, perhaps due to increasing computer literacy. Dating sites that serve cultures where arranged marriages are the norm have given singles a greater chance to participate in the process of finding a family-approved mate.

In the hope of attracting romantic interest, customers disclose sensitive personal information about themselves. This information may then be re-disclosed not only to prospective dates, but also to advertisers and, ultimately, to data aggregators who use the data for purposes unrelated to online dating and without customer consent. In addition, there are risks such as scammers, sexual predators, and reputational damage that come along with using online dating services.

Dating sites have been accused of failing to take enough action to protect vulnerable users and intentionally misleading customers by using impossible-to-prove claims and scientific language.

This fact sheet provides information on the potential advantages and disadvantages of using online dating services, and offers tips to greater protect yourself and your data from abuse.  The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse does not endorse any of the products or services mentioned in this Fact Sheet.

 

2. Dating Sites Harvest Sensitive Personal Information

 

Online dating sites generally offer three kinds of services: 1) an ability to search for and see pictures of prospects; 2) a chance to exchange messages and set up in-person meetings; and 3) "matching," for example, recommendations for prospective long-term romantic partnerships based on personal information given to and analyzed by the company. Most sites offer the first two services for free, although some require a fee for additional interaction or premium messaging abilities. Only a few offer matching and these are likely to be fee or subscription based. In addition to sites offering broad matching, thousands of niche sites have cropped up that intend to help narrow the pool based on ethnicity and religion (JDate and ChristianSingles), orientation (Grindr), and even a love of Apple products (Cupidtino).

In order to match you with others, online dating services collect data about you through forms, quizzes, preference questions, and even blood tests. After crunching the numbers using an algorithm, they’ll give you a list of people, sometimes with a compatibility rating, who, as eHarmony puts it, have been "prescreened for deep compatibility with you across 29 dimensions." The services may make additional money by selling the data for marketing or advertising purposes. As one client said, "Where else can you go in a matter of 20 minutes [and] look at 200 women who are single and want to go on dates?” Advertisers are saying the same thing.

When you sign up for an online dating service, you create a "profile" of yourself that others can browse. You may be asked to reveal your age, sex, education, profession, number of children, religion, geographic location, sexual proclivities, drinking behavior, hobbies, income, religion, ethnicity, drug use, where you live, where you work, and the places you go. The length of the profile and how information is displayed varies by site. Some have relatively simple forms to fill out that ask just the basics. Others like eHarmony and OKCupid have hundreds to thousands of questions available in order to find more relevant and specific matches for you.

Although there is some fibbing associated with creating profiles on dating sites (male clients tend to be taller than the national average, and women report weighing less), the impulse to find a compatible date is strong enough to elicit very intimate information, including photos.

Some dating sites act like "filter bubbles" during the matching process, sending you selections that they think you want to see based on your characteristics and behavior instead of the full range of options available. “What you do is more important than what you say,” says former Match.com CEO Greg Blatt. There may be a disconnect between what you say you are looking for in a partner, and the kind of person to whom you are habitually attracted. Match.com calls this your "revealed preference" as opposed to your “stated preference,” and monitors your behavior on its site. You might say you want someone with particular attributes, but if you linger over profiles of a different kind, Match.com will favor profiles that correspond to the people you seem to be repeatedly drawn to.

 

A. The Data You Provide is Permanent

 

“Data that is posted on the [I]nternet should be regarded as permanent after 20 minutes, even if the originator has deleted the file,” says the former head of cybersecurity with Microsoft.. But just because the Internet can act as your permanent record doesn’t mean your information is always accessible to you or that you’ll have control over it, especially if it exists in other websites’ online databases. In many cases you don’t have control, and that can come back to haunt you.

Once an online dating service has your information, it has it for keeps. Even after you cancel your account (fall in love, get married, take a vow of celibacy, etc.), most dating sites retain your information. You may want to sign up again if a relationship doesn’t work out.   Online dating sites want to make the process as convenient as possible. However, this may have repercussions in the event of legal requests. Most dating sites, as stated in their privacy policies, will turn over your data if they get a court order, which will burden you with your own defense. Do you want your insurance company, a divorce lawyer, or a member of law enforcement to comb through your profile looking for signs of misrepresentation?  Detailed profiles could be used against you in new and negative ways. These include medical- and employment-related lawsuits, as well as divorce and custody proceedings.

Personal photos are another cause for concern. The photos you upload are often stored in a "content delivery network," a collection of databases not owned by the dating service, but instead paid to provide fast content delivery and reliable up-time. This means that even if you delete a photo from the dating website, there remains a cache of photos maintained by another company that will not be deleted. This practice has a parallel in Facebook, which uses facial recognition software, and has created a digital face-recognition photo database. When your friends tag you in photos they have posted, your photo becomes part of that database, and the face recognition software can be used to identify you in other photos that have not been tagged. If you have provided risqué photos of yourself, you have no guarantee of confidentiality.


B. Exploitation of Your Data

 

Helping you find a suitable partner is only a means to an end for online dating businesses. A few of the big names rely on subscription fees and refer users to other services they own. For example,  eHarmony will suggest Project Wedding to users it knows are getting married soon. Other services rely on “hyper-targeted” advertising to turn a profit, using the demographic, preference, psychological, and behavioral data you have provided to push products and services. For advertisers and data mining companies, your digital self is treated as more representative of you than your conscious self. Your data is helping online marketers sell you stuff, and you don’t have much choice if you want to continue use of that dating service.

Businesses claim that consumer data is anonymized or sold in aggregate form, but studies have shown that it’s hard to truly anonymize data. In 2007 researchers were able to overlap anonymized Netflix and IMBD datasets to prove how little effort is required to de-anonymize data. This could potentially lead advertising companies, researchers, and talented individuals (some datasets are publically available) to uncover your personal details and use them in ways you didn’t intend or give consent for.

Online dating sites have been exploited for other purposes as well. Spammers use online dating sites to gather e-mail addresses to send to their spam lists.


3. Consumer Fraud and Misleading Promises

 

Online dating sites make a lot of promises, so you may think they have scientific results to support their claims. But to the contrary, they guard their inner workings. Even the ones that use scientific-sounding methodologies refuse to divulge the algorithms they use for making matches.

Some services, like "Chemistry," "Perfect Match," and "GenePartner" claim they use science and genetics to match their customers. Others claim to have secret algorithms for matching prospective partners. eHarmony promises connections to "singles who have been prescreened on … scientific predictors of relationship success." OKCupid says "We use math to get you dates." The eHarmony survey has a dozen sections and consists of 200 to 300 items. The survey claims to measure 29 dimensions that supposedly predict long-term relationship success including personality adjectives (warm, arrogant), interests (volunteering, fitness), and emotions (happy, angry).

Is there evidence that a scientific formula can really identify pairs of singles who are especially likely to have a successful romantic relationship? Not much, according to a 2012 journal article in Psychological Science in the Public Interest. Dating services tell customers they have identified potential partners with whom the customers will be especially likely to experience positive romantic outcomes. In reality, the customers are most likely to get a random selection of potential partners in their local geographic area.

There has been little scrutiny of dating sites by government regulatory authorities. The Federal Trade Commission is charged with protecting against consumer fraud, but there are no accepted standards for measuring success of online dating algorithms, or strategies with which to judge them. Reports to date have shown that dating sites fail to provide any evidence that they work. The mechanisms offered by the dating services, from personality tests to DNA samples, appear to have nothing to do with the long-term success of people who meet each other via online dating.

Researchers have urged government regulators to investigate online dating as a form of consumer fraud. Since it is impossible to evaluate the validity of a given matching algorithm, and because the matching sites refuse to share the algorithm with members of the scientific community, dating sites should be wary of making scientific-sounding claims. As researchers noted, "More than any other domain of human activity, relationships affect the emotional well-being, physical health and productivity of partners, their children and families, and society as a whole."

The services insist they must prevent their trade secrets from being stolen by their competitors. They also prevent customers, researchers, and regulators from investigating the truth of their claims.

One site, GenePartner, claims to introduce compatible potential partners based on their DNA. It claims that "with the use of DNA technology, the science of online dating has become a whole lot less inexact." There is absolutely no scientific evidence to support this kind of claim, and you may be surprised to find out that you have no control over what an online dating service does with your genetic information after you disclose it. For instance, HIPAA, the federal health privacy law, does not apply to dating sites.

To its credit, GenePartner promises to protect genetic information and has procedures in place to protect personal data and destroy genetic data after analysis, but there is little to prevent GenePartner from changing its practices.  The point is that if a dating site like GenePartner—or any other dating service—is claiming scientific accuracy, it should document its scientific methods and offer scientific proof. At the very least, it should be subject to scrutiny by federal and state regulatory agencies. Otherwise, untested or fake scientific claims could amount to false advertising.

Even unscientific sounding claims appear to have limited validity. Even something as basic as similarity appears to be a poor predictor of long-term romantic success. A 2008 analysis of 313 studies, and a 2010 study of 23,000 married couples showed that similarity between partners doesn't predict success.

Worse, some site operators create fake profiles to draw in new members and keep existing ones hooked. The industry calls these fake profiles "ghosts."  Some dating sites appear to encourage customers to send messages for the purpose of attracting new members, rather than making introductions to existing members. 

Courtship may not be a completely honest process, but this should not apply to the company that is taking their personal information and often their money.

 

A.  How Effective is Online Dating?

 

You most likely know someone with an online dating success story. Online dating offers an important and very popular service: access to names and profiles of potential partners. Especially for people whose social lives do not give them opportunities to meet good prospects, online dating is a valuable innovation. It’s now estimated that 1 in 5 marriages are a result of online dating. But there is a difference between meeting lots of people and finding a compatible partner. Although many dating sites claim to predict long-term romantic compatibility, often invoking scientific-sounding principles, it is hard to characterize the success rate.

Online dating sites have millions of members, but the reality is few people are willing to travel more than 25-30 miles to make an in-person romantic connection. Some sites may not be doing much more than randomizing members in your geographic area. Another significant limiting factor to the amount of people available in the database is lapsed subscription payments. The dating sites that charge fees will put you in touch only with people who are up to date in paying their own fees, but that doesn’t mean they won’t show you their profiles. This means that even if the service’s database has millions of profiles, only a small subset will be up to date on making payments (the editor of Online Dating Insider predicts only about 4 million active accounts from a site that proclaims to have 15 million). You can wind up sending dozens of e-mails to people who cannot respond because they are not current with their monthly fees. On the flipside, you can see members but you cannot communicate with them until you pay.

Online dating may be less effective than old-fashioned methodologies for purposes of cultivating long-term relationships. Analytical studies indicate that for long-term success in a romantic relationship, information about a person's individual characteristics tells you little about long-term prospects. The more relevant information comes from the interaction between two people, such as communication patterns, problem-solving tendencies, and sexual compatibility which can only emerge after two people have met in person. It is difficult to judge chemistry or rapport from searchable information like height, age, and education; and most dating sites ignore environmental factors like illness, stress, childhood struggles, and emotional volatility. A profile that is front-loaded and has a packaged feel leaves less mystery and enjoyment from getting to know the person and finding common ground. While this can help weed out obviously incompatible matches, it can also dilute the pleasure of building a relationship over time and uncovering layers of personality.

A small but significant issue is that of misrepresentation and outright lying in profiles. Although the threat of meeting in person likely curbs severe lies, studies have shown that 80% of profiles have inaccuracies. Men tend to add an average of two inches and women tend to weigh slightly less.  Many users may use older, more flattering photographs or even photos of other people. Some sociologists believe that saying that you’re an avid mountain biker when you’re really just a weekend warrior or that you have a “fit” body provides some impetus for the individual to take action to make the claim true. Until then, however, the dates will be an exercise in adjusting your expectations. .

One of the most troubling consequences of online dating is attitude shifts when it comes to what’s appropriate behavior. It should come as no surprise to anyone who has read a flame war in the comment section of a controversial news article that the Internet can be an ugly place. Now combine the perks of anonymity with the new culture of millions being dismissive over detailed and possibly arbitrary characteristics. A long-time online dater believes that the social contract is broken in ways that don’t exist in real life. “Never-answered messages, explicit requests for sex, fake bios, outdated photos and insults are ubiquitous.”

 

4. Risks of Online Dating

 

When you provide information about yourself online, you inevitably take certain risks. Online dating, perhaps because it speaks to our fondest hopes, opens the door to certain vulnerabilities.

 

A. Rip-off Scams

 

The U.S. Department of State and the Consumer Fraud Task Force receive complaints daily and thousands per year from people who have been scammed out of money online. Most of these scammers are from overseas and use the hopes and dreams of the individuals against them to lure unsuspecting victims into parting with their money. With the growing popularity of online dating, savvy scammers have found a new domain in which to deploy their cons. A study in the United Kingdom found that more than 200,000 people in Britain had been conned by scammers posing as potential romantic partners online.

There are a great variety of scripts scammers use to ask for money, but the first step is typically to sign up to a dating site with false (sometimes stolen) or fake credentials, perhaps pretending to be an American soldier stationed overseas or a businessman from a Western country that spends the majority of his time traveling internationally. Because the reward can be so great, scammers may spend a significant amount of time (weeks or months) gaining the trust of their targets and “falling in love” with them. Once they have the victim hooked, they will suffer a traveling or medical emergency, ask (sometimes repeatedly) for expensive items or large amounts of cash to be sent in order to complete business obligations or bribe corrupt travel officials, or they may be “robbed” or lose all of their belongings overseas. Many will request money with promises that it will reduce the time until the two will finally meet and promise that they will pay back a much larger sum when the emergency is over. After the money is transferred, the scammer simply disappears leaving a broken heart and an empty bank account. There is little chance of prosecution or recovery since these scammers are located in other countries.

For more descriptions of common online dating and Internet scams, visit the U.S Department of State’s website and OnlineDatingSafetyTips.com.


B. Sexual Predators, Felons, and Stalkers

 

No one can put a definitive number on how much violence stems from pursuing romance online, but many crime stories have begun with two people reading each other’s online profiles. The popularity of online dating services has only grown since then. With the prevalence of rapes and sexual assault going unreported and the low conviction rate for those accused (1.2%), it’s likely that online dating remains very attractive to predators.

In response to these growing safety concerns, a segment of the business of criminal background checks is aimed at online dating. A site called MyMatchChecker.com, designed by law enforcement officials, will procure background checks on dating site customers.  Mobile apps such as Instant National Criminal Search are urging daters to “look up before you hook up” and will even send results of the check to a friend for safety. The apps require basic information such as name and birthdate and can be completed in minutes. These apps may not be as useful or aboveboard as they claim to be.

True.com was one of the first dating services to screen new members and reject felons, sexual offenders, and married people from signing up. The president of the company believes these inexpensive checks increase the safety of his site. Other online dating companies disagree and raise concerns that ineffective screenings may result in a false sense of security for online daters. The completeness and availability of digital records vary by state and county, and all methods of background checking can be thwarted by a motivated person. Others argue that requiring background screenings may breach First Amendment rights to speak anonymously and infringe on the privacy and damage the reputation of non-violent felons. Even so, three major sites have agreed to check subscribers against national sex offender registries and actively root out fake profiles.

Some states have passed laws with the intention of increasing safety and consumer awareness on dating sites. Most, like the New Jersey Internet Safety Dating Act of 2008, provide that dating services must indicate whether they do criminal history background screenings, and educate members about safe dating practices. A similar New York statute enacted in 2009 "requires online dating services to provide safety awareness notification that includes, at a minimum, a list and description of safety measures reasonably designed to increase awareness of safer dating practices."  In addition, a handful of states have passed laws to regulate online dating sites.

 

C.  Data Security

 

Many online dating sites take shortcuts with respect to safeguarding the privacy and security of their customers. Often, they use counterintuitive "privacy" settings, and permit serious security flaws.

Few sites implement standard Web encryption, HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure), which ensures that information gets encrypted when it is sent and received over the Internet.  This means that if you are in a coffee shop or library, any eavesdropper monitoring the wireless connection can pick up your username, chat messages, the pages you visit, and the profiles you view. This type of attack used to be considered hard to pull off, but with tools like Firesheep even unskilled attackers have easy access. Using Firesheep, an eavesdropper could essentially hijack your account without needing to know your password and go through your personal information or impersonate you on an unsecured wireless network.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation recommends installing the standard encryption yourself using the Firefox or Chrome browser extension "HTTPS Everywhere." They have also put together a comparison guide of major online dating sites’ privacy and security practices.

User-uploaded photographs can lead to security concerns if you have used the image in other online contexts or you have not stripped the geolocation and other metadata that modern cameras typically add to the digital file. Emerging technologies such as TinEye and Google Image Search make it trivial to identify photos posted online if the photo has been used on a public social media profile.

When you post photos online you should consider any additional information the photo may contain.  For instance your location information may be available in photos that have been geotagged. This means that even if you don’t want to disclose your home address, your photos may provide it without your knowledge. This makes some people vulnerable. As an example of what geotagged photos may reveal, a study analyzing photos that prominently featured children on Flickr found that a significant portion of them could be tracked to the 50 most expensive ZIP codes in the United States. Using ZIP codes and other identifying location references visible in the photographs could easily result in a map of targets, be it children on Flickr or individuals on dating sites. 

In addition, the explosion of mobile device popularity has resulted in consumers being able to download a vast range of apps, including many location-based online dating ("mobile dating") apps like Zoosk, Badoo, and Grindr. These apps often request geolocation data even when the location of the user has nothing to do with the functionality of the app.

As with your home computer or laptop, it is important to take security precautions with respect to your mobile devices. In 2012, the New York Times asked a software developer to build an app that could take photos from the phones of unwitting users. It discovered that Android phones and Apple iOS devices were vulnerable; a person's entire photo library could be copied without any notice. These security flaws have been patched, but this illustrates that security is an ongoing challenge.

Some unscrupulous programmers have intentionally used GPS data to invade the privacy of those nearby. An app that piggybacked on the Foursquare API called "Girls Around Me" was recently pulled from the Apple store after being available for months. The app gathered information from public pages of Facebook and Foursquare, aggregated the data, and allowed users to browse a list and view a map with real-time GPS data and pictures of women (or men) in their vicinity. After a public backlash that labeled it a “stalker app” and concerns that the app could enable easy harassment of women, it was pulled for violating Foursquare’s Terms of Service.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is pushing for consumers to be aware of and push for greater rights with their Mobile User Privacy Bill of Rights.

Even if an online dating site makes promises about security, keep in mind that it might be talking about security for  itself, as opposed to security for you. There is a difference between protecting commercial trade secrets, versus making sure that your personal data remains confidential. You should always take your own devices' security into account as well.  Make sure your security software comes from a trusted source, and that you keep it updated.


D.  Defamation, Discovery, and Damage to Your Reputation

 

The intimate information you share online, whether photos, sexual practices or any other sensitive matter, can come back to haunt you. The legal system, unfortunately, does not provide much in the way of remedies for online defamation and the Internet has a permanent memory. Even your efforts to protect your own reputation can backfire on you. It pays to be very careful about what you disclose.

A vivid illustration comes from the dating website "Don't Date Him Girl," a social networking site where women can share information with each other about their bad dating experiences. The website describes itself as "a powerful online resource for women and men seeking counsel and community about love, sex, dating, relationships and marriage." The allegations range from silly to horrific and none require proof or allow for rebuttal before being posted on the site.

In 2006, a profile of an alleged bad date appeared on Don't Date Him Girl, proclaiming that he was a shabbily dressed lawyer, womanizer, and had herpes. He sued, claiming these were lies and demanding to set the record straight. His decision to sue, however, made his reputation even worse. He generated a lot of negative publicity in the blogosphere and additional “bad reviews” piled on at Don’t Date Him Girl. He received notoriety above and beyond the negative attention he would have received from people who visited Don't Date Him Girl. As one blogger put it, “Don't sue for defamation, because even if you win, you'll lose.”

Risqué photographs can also damage your reputation if they come to light. Dr. Laura Schlessinger, a conservative champion of family values who had a popular radio call-in show, found herself embroiled in scandal when nude pictures from 20 years earlier surfaced. She sued, but she was unable to stop the photos from being published on the Internet. You don't have to be nude to harm your reputation. Anthony Wiener famously tarnished his reputation and resigned from the U.S. House of Representatives for tweeting photos of himself in his underwear. Pictures can be used to identify you, defeat pseudonymity, and bring your character into question.

In addition, Google indexes the profiles of some online dating services if the default privacy settings have not been changed. This could lead to an employer, insurer, or offline friends and family discovering your dating profile. For niche communities that may have good reason to keep personal information private such as LGBT or HIV-positive individuals, a discovery of this kind could have devastating personal consequences.

There have been documented cases where online reputations have caused people to lose their jobs and lower credit scores. With the ease at which an employer, insurer, or scorned lover can complete a quick Google search on you, it pays to be more cautious when providing personal information and photos.


E.  Shopping Mentality

 

Abundance has a dark side. People intuitively think that having more choices will increase the probability of finding a “better” or “best” option, but they often find it hard to make any selection at all when faced with too many choices. This phenomenon is called "choice overload." This abundance may also result in believing  one has essentially infinite possibilities, which may lead some people to question or devalue their current partner. This is called "trading up," and may lead to treating  one’s dates as commodities. It is inevitable that, in every relationship, there will come a moment of disillusionment. Having an array of potential partners may discourage any sustained effort to resolve conflicts.

The most common criticism is that to treat romantic love as a commercial enterprise is to exploit the deepest yearnings of humanity for profit. The rejoinder to this is that matchmakers have been in this business for a fee for thousands of years.

Another related complaint is that online dating resembles little more than a human meat market, and the profile-browsing process actually interferes with the development of satisfying romantic relationships. Creating a profile is a form of selling yourself, and "relationshopping” reduces potential partners to mere objects.

The common retort from dating sites and enthusiasts is that courtship has never been about telling the whole truth.  It has always involved a measure of strategic self-presentation. But the all-important profile, which functions as your “own personal shop window,’” and the myriad of personal information contained in it raise these concerns to a new level. To quote one user featured in an academic study, "I think [shopping is] a perfect analogy for it. I can pick and choose; I can choose what size I want, it’s like buying a car, what options am I looking for. I can test drive it, eh it’s not really my fit, I’ll put it back and go try another car…You might say I only want to look for redheads today, so I’ll save the search where all my other criteria are the same, education, professional, but I only want to look for people who have red hair."

As discussed above, online dating may be an effective way to meet people, but it does not score better than other methods for long-term romantic outcomes. Studies that seek to explain relationship longevity success or failure have shown long-term success is undermined by commodifying three-dimensional people, and yet this is the very advice that some “experts” give about approaching online dating.

Dating sites cannot know the problems and challenges of your life; nor can they know your interaction and conflict-resolution style, key components to relationship satisfaction and endurance. Moreover, if you do not conform to the standard social expectations, the secret algorithms of dating services may not work for you. Stephen Baker, Business Week journalist and author of The Numerati, warned that computer algorithms are not infallible just because they are computerized: "The prejudices of a society are reflected in the algorithms that are searched."

Several dating sites specifically try to weed out individuals who, in their opinion, would not be successful in relationships or who don’t meet the site’s standards. For instance, eHarmony rejects about 20% of applicants that sign up. Some of these motives are sound, such as rejecting people who have indicated they are already married. However, rejecting people who show signs of depression or who indicate they may have poor conflict resolution skills leaves users who arguably need the most help finding a mate out in the cold.

 

6. Recommendations


  1. Consider electronic privacy and other risks while looking for love online.

  2. Read the dating site's terms of service and privacy policy. This may be difficult, because many privacy policies seem to be written to be as confusing as possible. Here is what to look for:
    • The site should provide online security – HTTPS.
    • It should delete data after you close the account.
    • It should be upfront about sharing your personal information with other members.
    • It should be upfront about who else gets to see your data.
    • It should indicate whether the dating site shares your e-mail address with third parties.
    • Does it give you a chance to opt out?
    • Does it provide the name of a real human being to contact if you have questions?
    • Can you be chosen as the "profile of the day"?
    • Does it reveal your photo only to members or also for online advertising?
    • Be skeptical about promises of anonymization. Researchers have found it is entirely possible to re-identify records that have been anonymized.
  3. Share photographs with caution. Digital photos have attached metadata such as where and when the image was captured that can be used maliciously. You can scan a photo before sending it and remove the metadata from a JPEG image.

  4. Consider getting a free e-mail account specifically for online dating purposes (from Gmail, 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. Some experts in the industry foresee a day when dating site questionnaires will be unnecessary because all relevant information will be available from Facebook and other social networking sources. Keep in mind that everything you say about yourself online stays online, for better or worse.
  8.  

    7.  Online Resources

     

For a persuasive research article, see Finkel et al., "Online Dating: A Critical Analysis From the Perspective of Psychological Science," Psychological Science in the Public Interest, in press (2012), http://www.psychologicalscience.org/pdf/PSPI-online_dating-proof.pdf


http://www.onlinepersonalswatch.com  is a trade magazine for the online dating industry.


Robert L. Mitchell, “Online dating: Your profile's long, scary shelf life,” Computerworld, February 13, 2009, https://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9127799/Online_dating_Your_profile_s_long_scary_shelf_life


The Electronic Frontier Foundation offers a number of resources related to online dating:


Comparing Privacy and Security Practices on Online Dating Sites: https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2012/02/comparing-privacy-and-security-online-dating-sites


Mobile User Privacy Bill of Rights: https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2012/03/best-practices-respect-mobile-user-bill-rights


Hey OkCupid, How About Some SSL Love? https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2012/02/hey-okcupid-how-about-some-ssl-love


Love at First Byte: Online-dating sites have made it easier for people to click with one another. But they still leave something to be desired, The Economist, Dec. 29, 2010, http://www.economist.com/node/17797424


Stephanie Rosenbloom, "New Online the Detectives Can Unmask Mr. or Mrs. Wrong," New York Times, December 18, 2010.
https://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/12/opinion/sunday/online-dating-sites-dont-match-hype.html?scp=2&sq=finkel&st=cse

For more information about HTTPS, a protocol that provides secure Internet transactions between web browsers and web sites, see the Electronic Frontier Foundation's https://www.eff.org/pages/https


For more specific information about how to block "Firesheep": https://www.eff.org/press/archives/2010/11/23


The Promise and Peril of Big Data, the Aspen Institute (2010) http://www.aspeninstitute.org/publications/promise-peril-big-data

The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse offers a number of resources related to online dating:


Are you Being Stalked?
https://www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs14-stk.htm

Security Recommendations for Stalking Victims
https://www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs14a-stalking.htm

How to End Harassing Phone Calls
https://www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs3-hrs2.htm

Social Networking Privacy: How to be Safe, Secure and Social
https://www.privacyrights.org/social-networking-privacy

     

    We gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Grayson Barber, Esq., and Ashley Bigham, a Master of Science in Information candidate at University of Michigan, in the preparation of this guide.

     

     

     

     

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.


X

Sign In!

Loading