Dating apps have become safer over the years, but the highly-intimate nature of the game means strengthened privacy features come extra.

With pandemic lockdowns, tight social distancing guidelines and numerous incentives to stay at home, meeting the love of your life at a party now seem like a distant dream.

That is why online dating platforms are experiencing a major boom. In March 2020, Tinder reached a record 3 billion swipes in a single day, while OkCupid experienced a massive 700% increase in facilitating romantic meetups from March to May that same year.

Amidst this growing popularity, love scams, phishing and fraud activities have thrived as well. One cybersecurity firm decided to investigate the dating app landscape to check for security risks and criminal tactics leveraging human beings’ unquenchable search for love.

To understand the security implications of surging digital love-seeking, researchers from Kaspersky conducted an in-depth study of nine popular dating apps to assess how safe they were. What they found was that, compared to the same landscape in 2017, dating apps have become safer from a technical standpoint, particularly when it comes to the transfer of data.

However, these apps still pose a significant risk when it comes to exposing too much personal information about users — leaving the former vulnerable to threats like cyberstalking and doxing.

Nine ways to find love

For their research, Kaspersky analyzed nine popular and highly rated dating apps with global user bases: Tinder, Bumble, OkCupid, Mamba, Pure, Feeld, Her, Happn, and Badoo.

In 2017, four of the apps in the study had made it possible to intercept data sent from the app, and many apps used the unencrypted HTTP protocol. However, in this year’s evaluation, the situation has significantly improved. None of the apps studied uses HTTP, and no data is sent if the protocol is not secure.

That said, significant privacy concerns remain with dating apps. Most dating apps allow users to register their account with one of their social networking sites. If users choose to do this, then their profile is automatically populated with information from that social networking site, such as photos and profile information. Users are also invited to share information such as their place of work or university. All of the aforementioned data makes it easy to find dating app users’ social media accounts, and depending on their privacy settings on those accounts, a host of other personal information.

In addition, apps like Happn, Her, Bumble, and Tinder make it obligatory for users to share their location. Some apps, like Mamba, share the distance of users to the nearest meter. Happn has an additional functionality that lets users see how many times and in what locations their matches have crossed paths with them.

According to Tatyana Shishkova, a security expert at Kaspersky: “It is always challenging to find a balance between building a digital presence and maintaining your privacy online, and the shift to online dating creates yet another area where users have to determine the best way for them to forge connections while protecting their security. Thankfully, dating apps are moving in the right direction, letting users connect more safely. In the paid versions of many of the apps, users can do things like manually specify their location or blur their photos. Hopefully, in the future, these options will be available in all apps for free. The best thing users can do to stay safe is to be careful about the data they’re sharing about themselves, both on their dating profiles and in conversations.”

Digital lovehunting is still risky

Since dating apps require access to sensitive data such as location, place of work, name, contact information, etc., should malicious people gain access and/or abuse the information, then the possibility for cyberstalking, physical stalking and doxxing can turn romantic dreams into privacy nightmares.

One way to have some control over the sensitivity of the data is to limit the information that is stored and shared. However, many of the nine apps offer greater control only in their paid versions.

Mamba is the only application that lets users blur their photos for free. In the paid versions of Tindr and Bumble, you can manually choose your location to a specific region. Since only a region is available rather than a specific distance, it is much harder to determine a user’s exact location.

Additionally, some paid versions of apps, like Happn, offer users an ‘incognito’ mode wherein users can hide their profile from strangers and profiles that have not been swiped-right on.

Then there is the possibility of users taking screenshots of chats, which can potentially be abused for blackmail purposes or doxing. Of the nine app evaluated, Pure is the only one that prohibits the feature.

In conclusion, if you prize your privacy and want to keep romancing without guilt, perhaps spending a bit of money on the extra safety feature is not so bad, right?

Tips for safer digital romancing

To stay safe when using dating apps, stick to the following rules:

  • Do not share too much personal information (last name, employer, photos with friends, political views, etc.) in your profile
  • Do not tie other social media accounts to your profile
  • Select your location manually, if possible
  • Insist on two-factor authentication; otherwise, you are on your own
  • If you are no longer using the app, delete or hide your profile
  • Use the built-in messenger in dating apps. It is better to move to other messengers only if you trust your match. If you finally decide to chat, set up the chat in way that keeps your private information secure.
  • Use a trusted security solution on your devices, to help detect any malicious or suspicious activity across your gadgets, as well as check the security of the URLs that you visit.

When it comes to the future of dating apps, Kaspersky has several predictions and hopes, such as the use of AI to protect users from fraud and for the creation of verified accounts.