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Dating portals can break your heart

Dating portals are coming under fire for a host of dirty deeds ranging from financial scams, pushing fake profiles on a grand scale, to poor protection of highly intimate details.

No new year’s resolution is as seductive as finding a new love. But dating portals are also benefiting from this, with almost twice the number of people signing up at the start of the year. But what many don’t know is that if you go looking for love on the internet, you’ll be baring all long before you get that first date. Indeed, the rising popularity of dating platforms pose serious security and privacy issues. The latest studies show that on the one hand, love makes yearning singles behave carelessly. On the other, portal operators aren’t doing themselves any favors on the image front with lax security, financial scams, fake profiles, and poor privacy seemingly part of their business plan.

Problem 1: Huge security flaws in apps

Security experts say that online daters are living on the edge for two reasons – especially those looking for love via a smartphone app. An investigation into nine popular dating apps revealed that no matter whether it came to sexual preferences, naked photos, or simply just passwords, confidential info was often poorly protected. Security and privacy flaws often allow the real person behind the account to be identified. In addition, hackers can track down users via the dating apps and snoop on their encrypted messages. For perverts in particular, such flaws are a gold mine: They can pour over women’s profiles and find out exactly where they live.

Problem 2: Those looking for love are too careless

Far too many users are simply too careless with their information when searching for a partner. Many freely divulge personal details, such as their address or telephone number, within hours or even minutes to seemingly compatible partners. Private or revealing photos and sexual preferences are also shared without hesitation with a “match”. If this sort of sensitive data ends up in the hands of cybercriminals, the person is leaving themselves vulnerable to blackmail and many other things. So: Don’t go revealing too much info in your flirting profile that could reveal your true identity. This includes information about where you work, your education, and where you live exactly.

Problem 3: Users being snooped on

How trustworthy are matchmaking platforms? The data protection experts at eBlocker investigated the technical measures used by operators to snoop on their customers’ data to create personal sex profiles. Thanks to Google and Facebook trackers, they can tell pretty accurately who their customers are – and can pimp existing user profiles with a few juicy details. These include sexual preferences, preferred physical characteristics, or secret fetishes. The personal details the user enters when completing their personal profile during the registration process are just the tip of the iceberg. This is because state-of-the-art trackers are not only able to record what those looking for love are entering into forms, but also what they delete afterwards. Ultimately, all twelve of the dating sites investigated use trackers. eBlocker’s CEO Christian Bennefeld was astounded: “I would never have thought that the operators would have been so lax with their customers’ privacy, especially in an industry built on discretion and trust.”

Problem 4: Fake profiles

Security flaws? Users being snooped on? It doesn’t stop there. The German state of Bavaria’s consumer organization Verbraucherzentrale Bayern discovered that while numerous online dating portals advertise that they have genuine members looking for love, they actually use fake profiles. This means that when flirting or talking dirty, instead of a like-minded person answering, it’s just a paid employee. They create fake users and dress up their profiles with photos of attractive people scoured from the internet – often without those people’s knowledge. Using these fake profiles, employees then try to lure unsuspecting users from the free to the paid version of the platform, or get them to use flirt points or something similar, which are often very expensive. “I suspected problems in individual cases, but nothing on this blanket scale,” says Susanne Baumer from Verbraucherzentrale Bayern. She adds: “With fake profiles, there’s zero chance of meeting a potential partner.” But how can users tell whether a portal is not playing fair? Take a close look at their terms and conditions. Keywords like profiles, chatbots, controller, CUser, moderator, and moderated service are sure signs a scam is afoot.

This post is also available in: German