Most young adults have tried one of the many Tinder-like dating apps that connect people for romance, and every day more people over thirty test out the convenience of swiping for love.
Valentine’s Day isn’t the biggest dating app day of the year. That distinction belongs to first Sunday of the year. But you’d have to assume many of those new users joined early in January hoping that they wouldn’t be alone on Valentine’s Day.
So as February 14 approaches, the pressure to find a date may be rising. And that’s when mistakes happen.
On a recent episode of our Cyber Sauna Podcast, Janne Kauhanen spoke to F-Secure alumnus Sean Sullivan about how to deal with the “complicated” privacy tradeoffs necessary in order to date digitally.
Both Janne and Sean are professionals with a passion for reducing privacy and security risks while minimizing their digital footprint. Sean tried out Tinder a couple of years ago and Janne ran through a handful of apps before deciding OkCupid was his favorite. If you’re considering dating online or would just like to do it a bit more conscientiously, you should check out the whole episode.
To get you started, here are a few tips from Janne and Sean that can help attract more matches and less trouble.
The key word is “carefully”
A core principle of basic operational security (OPSEC) is: consider your threat model.
If you’re reading this article, you probably already practice most of the basics of security—your devices are all updated and running security software; you use strong, unique passwords ideally stored in a password manager; and you run a virtual private network (VPN) whenever you’re on an unprotected network.
That’s a good start. Now you have to decide what your should share about yourself.
“Well, I think the line is like…carefully is kind of the key word,” Sean said.
The more your privacy matters to you or your career, the more careful you should be with your data. There’s probably no good reason to identify your employer on a dating app, even if you’re a founder. Also, if you’re in a smaller town, it’s much easier to identify you based on just a few identifiers. So be selective about the information you share, given that many apps will automatically give people a sense of your location.
It’s relatively easy to use the information images shared in these apps to find you in your other online presences, like Facebook or LinkedIn, when paired with a reverse image search. This is why Sean recommends not using the photographs you use on your dating profiles anywhere else.
You can date with your tin foil hat on
If you’re very concerned about “identity management,” you can aggressively shield your identifiable data the way Janne did when he tried out several different apps.
He pretty much obfuscated everything but his first name.
“So I set up my Tinder,” he said. “It’s based on a Gmail address I generated for this purpose. There’s a Facebook profile that’s tied to that Gmail address. There is a prepaid phone number that’s tied to both of these and that’s also used in Tinder.”
The results? He found dates, though some apps seemed to penalize him for his pared down identity. This points to a paradox of OPSEC and good identity management: it can make you appear to the sites you join like a bot or a scammer.
The greatest irony of all is that Janne ended up liking OkCupid the most, though it’s the app that demands the most user information. However, the personality questions the app relies on to match you with potential mates aren’t likely to be identifiable.
Watch out for scams and your own delusions
Dating scams were one of the most common sorts of spam F-Secure found in 2018, a trend that seems to be continuing in 2019. Criminals use them because they know they work. Scams that prey on the pursuit of romance of all forms have been around for decades and you’re likely to come across them if you spend much time on any dating app.
The way to deal with these scams is simple: avoid them.
But to avoid them, you need to know what you’re looking for first. Look into which sort of scams and frauds are targeting daters, especially more mature daters. And keep in mind that fake daters generally know which sort of lures that attract people, and straight men in particular.
What scammers look like
Janne did some research into how typical scammers present themselves on these apps and laid out what you should be looking for:
A company called Scamalytics created scammer profiles about a year ago. This is what a typical scammer profile – they looked at like a couple of hundred different profiles and created, like, this is basically what it’s more or less like. And the male scammer profile was typically in their late forties, had a higher income, if there was like income brackets, they’d be in the highest bracket. They had some sort of a degree. Typically were like widowers or divorcees and the photos were often taken at a slight distance. The female profile, and this is what I guess you and I have seen, is someone in their late twenties, typically, you know, maybe a higher income as well, either has a degree or is a student for a respectable degree, never been married, typically skimpy clothing with a lot of cleavage. And once, apparently this is something when you get to talking to them, they surprisingly have a very similar background to yours and typically only like a single image, because it’s easier to fake a single image then a bunch of images.
When you engage with a spammer, the biggest mistake you can make is to fall for the scam once by sending him or her money. Call it the “psychology of sunk costs.”
“Apparently there’s also a psychological mechanism where once you sent money to one of these profiles, you’re sort of committed a little bit,” Janne said. “So you’re in for some money already, so you keep sending more in the vain hope that this turns out to be a real deal and that you just haven’t been scammed out of all this money.”
When you open yourself to new romance, the risks are already high. Fortunately, protecting your private data is easier than securing your heart.
UPDATE: After recording the podcast, Janne tried out the Finnish version of Elite Singles and found his girlfriend there.
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