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Is it Worth the Risk? The Ways Dating Apps are Keeping You Safe



Technology and romance have had a long history that spans to the beginning of computers. The first known dating site was created in 1965, called "Operation Match", which reached a million users in the 1960s. In the early naughties, we see another boom in the dating app world- a site called "OkCupid"  in 2004, which are quickly followed by a flurry of other dating sites. 

Stylight magazine describes the evolution of these apps, as we see a lot of familiar apps popping up by the 2010s, such as Tinder which was founded in 2012, and Grindr. These come in an app format on a user’s mobile, and not just as a computer site, which is a major development in the accessibility of these sites. As these apps and sites become more popular, we can see the way people are finding partners more and more often, as recorded by POV.


POV infographic displaying the increase in dating app use

These apps have evolved from sites and taken on cellular features for the ease of users, but there’s a new issue that needs tackling: how to stay safe online. Dating apps are once again on the rise, the top-grossing of which have been recorded by Business of Apps  (2020): 
  • Tinder 
  •  Bumble 
  •  Tartan 
  •  Badoo 
  •  Hinge 
  •  Grindr 

Business of Apps' Infographic of estimate dating app valuations


Kaspersky, an organisation that provides cyber security, also recorded some of the major concerns users had when dating online, which ranged from personal information being stolen, virus ware, being recognised, and matching with fake profiles. Again, the extent to which each app protects against specific concerns differs, so we’ll tackle each issue and investigate how each of the listed apps aims to solve it.

Kasperky's infographic documenting IT security incidents
 


VERIFIED PROFILES 

First and foremost is the problem of "catfishes". Catfish was coined to describe someone who "assumes a fake identity, [and] starts an online relationship with someone and gains their trust". Online dating and catfish are synonymous at this point, and it’s definitely a concern for most users, given that nearly 18,000 were catfished in 2018 alone (and these were only noted cases- many may have gone unreported). 

Catfishes not only cause their victims to suffer emotionally but can also cause financial problems as well, as a reported $362 million was lost to romance fraud over the internet. 

One way in which dating apps are attempting to tackle catfish is by ensuring the user is a human. This is why identity verification processes are becoming increasingly more sophisticated. This rules out "bots" potentially gaining valuable information from users. 

yoome, in particular, has been highlighted as having an issue with these bots- as many users have pointed out in-app reviews. One person that "if they are not all bots they work on the site". Another user suggested that yoome sells messages from bots to users by taking their money and giving them matches from fake accounts.


Apps also use several verification systems to prove that the user is the one in the photos. Apps such as Bumble, Tantan, and Badoo verifies profiles and adds a badge to show that this person has sent unique photos to modifiers to prove they are the ones in the photographs. Bumble also allows users to send prompts to others in the form of requests to get verified. This means users have a way of ensuring that they're speaking to someone authentic and not a catfish. Grindr also allows users to send images to verify their accounts if they have been reported, for example, to prove they are the person in the photo.

Unfortunately, bots have taken advantage of photo verification. According to TechCrunch, Tinder has had instances of bot accounts asking users to verify via a seemingly safe link. This link takes users to a separate site that harnesses personal information. Apps need to be very clear that they would never ask for personal information through links or different apps because users assume this is part of the screening process to ensure they're authentic.


VIDEO & VOICE CALL FUNCTIONS  






It's also crucial that users are able to communicate in more ways than just text, especially as people are currently trying to remain safe during the Covid-19 outbreak. Being able to call someone can act as part of a screening process, and is within WHO guidelines for the pandemic. It's also much more difficult to impersonate someone over a video call, as users can see if the person matches the images you have posted. 

Hinge has messages on conversations with matches to reiterate the safety within voice and video calls with the current health guidelines. Similarly, Bumble has a section of the app which allows you to fill out your preferences concerning dating during Covid and gives you articles linking to WHO guidelines. All apps listed did have a section that gave advice about the Covid-19 pandemic and finding a date.

Hinge message encouraging video calls to users


Outside of Covid-19 risks, video calls are a good way to have a practice date. In the comfort of your own home, you can see if you connect with a person and if they're as genuine as they are online. It is also easier to disconnect and leave a chat if your match makes you uncomfortable, which may feel more difficult to do in a public place. Video calls for the discussed apps are opt-in, meaning you won't be forced to join a call if you don't want to. 

All apps have this feature so users won't have to give out personal mobile numbers or access to social media in order to use the video chat function. This can keep users safe while they're scouting out potential partners. 


FILTERED MESSAGES 


Bumble, alongside Hinge and Badoo, also use AI technology to probe messages for inappropriate content. Once found, the user is immediately reported and saves others from exposure to indecent content.

Hinge does not allow users to pass photographs back and forth at all, to prevent anyone from sending any inappropriate images. They also warn users against talking on other apps at first (such as text or through social media) as this can be a sign that a match wants to send something inappropriate that they can't through the Hinge app. 

Some dating apps have features where users can share images with one another (Bumble and Badoo), but this feature can be abused and used to send explicit images. Bumble CEO, Whitney Wolfe Herd, is advocates legal reformation so that users are better protected from indecent images. If inappropriate messages are treated as a criminal offence then there's hope that the threat of punishment will deter users from continuing this behaviour. As a result, there's an extra layer of protection for users and serious consequences for those who send unsolicited images. 

For now, Bumble blurs potentially inappropriate images so the user can decide whether or not to view them. Until they accept the image, they cannot see what photo has been sent and can reject and report the user without having to view anything explicit.


BLOCK & REPORT FEATURES  


Every dating app on the list has a block and report feature. Some separate the two features so a user can report specific behaviour, and some enable blocking to lead to optional reporting. This can also be done via "unmatching", as users are asked why they don't want to speak anymore. Unfortunately, the user is still exposed to inappropriate behaviour, and the app may not be quick enough to stop the spread. People are also capable of creating new accounts once they have been blocked, so something would need to be put in place to ensure these users don't simply start again. 

There also appears to be a new trend called "revenge reporting" as documented by The Stylist. This follows one user's experience on Hinge when they were reported for not answering a message from a match- after realising they had not broken any of the community guidelines. 


ADVICE & TIPS 


Undoubtedly, the apps discussed have sections dedicated to various topics that keep users safe. Some of these sections lead onto external articles and sites for users to gather more information, and some are found within the app. These resources tend to focus on: 

  • Covid-19 
  • Sexual health and consent 
  • Domestic abuse 
  • Cyber bullying 
  • LGBTQ+ support 
  • Crisis lines 

The UK government teamed up with major brands in the dating app industry to endorse the Covid-19 vaccination, which is usually in the Covid-19 advice section. Research shows that 59% of adults would only date a vaccinated user, so it has become essential for users to be able to see the vaccination status of their potential matches. Each app has variations, but it is apparent to other users who have gotten the vaccination and who has not. 

These apps then include WHO guidelines and Covid-19 safety, directing users to government sites and articles that may answer any queries they have. 

Outside of Covid-19, different groups need different kinds of support. Grindr includes LGBTQ+ safety tips about queer dating. Tinder and Bumble also have a section about travelling as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, highlighting that some areas or places may leave queer people vulnerable. People are attacked for their sexualities and this can be virtually and in real life- apps must ensure their users are armed with all the information they need to remain safe in all circumstances. 

Mental health is a significant element on dating apps, and sites such as Bumble have articles available for mental wellbeing and provide users with tips about how to handle rejections or matches that don't work out. 

Although advice and tips are useful in these areas, Kaspersky recorded that a shocking 63% of users are concerned about their device security when using online apps. A further 61% are also concerned about their data being leaked. Advice sections on apps are good ways to educate users about the ways in which they can keep themselves safe, avoid scams, and what to do if something like that does happen. It is also important that as a user, you check what your rights are and what apps are harnessing information from you. 


Table Summary of Discussed Apps and Safety Features Available: 

There is a multitude of ways dating apps can keep you safe from the many threats that meeting someone online can pose. Some apps do more than others, but ultimately it's up to you as a user to pick which app you think best suits you, what you're looking for, and tackles what issues are important to you. 

Becky Robinson 

A Creative Writing graduate with a love of modern classical literature. Currently sharpening her editorial skills and working to help others improving their writing abilities.

Contact Info: 
LinkedIn: Rebecca Robinson


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Is it Worth the Risk? The Ways Dating Apps are Keeping You Safe Reviewed by Rebecca Robinson on Sunday, August 29, 2021 Rating: 5

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