Updated: February 6, 2023
- 46% of Americans see dating apps as unsafe, even though three in 10 of them are on dating apps.
- Experts told Insider humans are hard-wired to trust other humans, and to find love, which can force us to ignore risks.
- New laws are changing how dating apps treat consumer data, and could change the way we share information online.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Online dating, the natural evolution from newspaper classifieds, is now one of the most common ways for Americans to meet each other. According to a 2020 Pew research study, three in 10 US adults say they’ve used dating sites or apps, and even Brad Pitt name-dropped Tinder during his speech at the 2020 SAG Awards. Yet 46% of people say they don’t feel these apps are safe.
There is cause for concern. OKCupid came under fire for selling user data, including answers to sensitive questions like “Have you used psychedelic drugs?” while gay dating app Grindr sold data regarding device location and users’ HIV status.
Dating apps still remain one of the most accessible ways to meet people, especially for LGBTQ communities. But as they become more and more ubiquitous, people must decide how much of themselves to share on their profiles.
Humans are hard-wired to want love and sex, so much so that we’re willing to ignore data security risks
Francesca Rea, 26, told Insider she thinks that, over the years of using Hinge and Bumble, she’s probably become less guarded. Rea estimates she’s using the apps for about four years, and uses her first and last names, as well as the name of the college she went to, but not her workplace.
One thing she does now that she might not have done years ago is link her Hinge account to her Instagram, so users can see a couple extra photos of her (although her Instagram handle is still not publicly viewable). All of this makes her easily Google-able, but she’s become more accepting of that.
“You can meet a psycho anywhere,” Rea said. “And at this point you need so little information in order to find somebody online. In order for dating apps to work, you need to give a little information about yourself.”
Elisabeth Chambry, also 26, uses Tinder and Hinge. Chambry’s had Hinge for two weeks and Tinder for on and off since 2012, and on the apps, she uses her first name but not her last, and her job title, but not her workplace. She says she isn’t too concerned with privacy.
“I’m not that worried about my privacy cause I feel like I’m already so exposed,” she said. “With my social media, my Google location, I’m already exposed. I don’t feel like dating apps make it worse.”
“It’s a two-way street,” said Connie Chen, 24, who met her boyfriend on Hinge after being on the app for two years. “I want to know about the person and they want to know about me.”
Jim Mourey, an assistant professor of marketing at DePaul University, whose research centers around online behavior said that’s natural.
These days we live in what Mourey calls the “privacy paradox,” a term which refers to the essential contradiction of people reporting privacy concerns while disclosing information online. “We do these risk-benefit calculations every time we put something online,” said Mourey. Do we put our last names on our dating apps? What about workplaces? College? Instagram handle?
The research shows that you shouldn’t, because pretty much all dating apps are susceptible to online hacks. According to a study conducted by IBM Security, over 60 percent of the leading dating apps studied are vulnerable to data hacks, while a report released by the Norwegian Consumer Council showed that a number of the world’s most popular dating apps had peddled user location data as well as other sensitive information to hundreds of companies.
But when love is involved — even the potential of it — it seems people are willing to put themselves at risk and deal with the consequences later.
“On dating apps, you are looking to be seen,” said Mourey. “Is there a risk to putting yourself out there? Yes, but the benefit is a potential romantic partner.”
To stand out from the competition, people feel the need to overshare
Justin Garcia, scientific advisor to Match, the parent company of OkCupid, PlentyOfFish, Tinder, Hinge and Match.com, told Insider content overload is one of the biggest issues dating apps face today.
“The phenomenon of content overload is that there’s there’s too much too much information, and it can be hard to make a decision,” said Garcia. Because of that, people can feel compelled to overshare online, to do anything to stand out from the hordes of people looking for love.
“It’s not that different from my niece, who is applying to colleges. For the top colleges, you think about what can you do that makes the committee recognize you,” said Garcia. “When youre on a dating app, you do something similar, you want to you want to attract the attention of an audience.”
That need to stand out from the competition leads to what Mourey calls ‘impression management,'” or curating an image of yourself as the person you want to be, as well as our need for validation. “We all have this need to belong,” says Mourey, “but once we belong to communities and relationships, we need to feel validated within that group.”
On dating apps, that means posting photos that will engage people, or writing about accomplishments that will impress people, like being 6’1″ or graduating from Yale University. “In some instances, people don’t even need the dates that will come from dating apps to feel validated,” said Mourey. Just knowing people are swiping on you and messaging you with compliments can be enough to feel validated.
It’s in our nature to trust and share with other humans — especially good-looking ones
Making a decision about what to put in your Tinder bio is no simple endeavor. No matter how concerned you may be about privacy or scammers, all humans have a natural urge to share intimate details with people they find attractive, whether it’s on an app or in a bar.
“When scientists look at people’s romantic and sexual life they often talk about ‘cost benefit,'” said Garcia.
“There is a mental calculus here, where we make decisions about the potential risks of things like disclosure.”
According to Lara Hallam, a PhD candidate at the University of Antwerp whose work focuses on trust and risk on dating apps, that cost-benefit analysis is blurred by the fact that humans are predisposed to trust each other.
“From an evolutionary perspective, it’s in our nature as humans to trust,” said Hallam. “When you look at hunter gatherer societies, every person had a specific role in their community and they had to trust each other” — an instinct that lingers today.
“Both online and off, the main predictor in most cases will be attractiveness.”
In some cases, though, it strays beyond honesty: there is no shortage of stories of people meeting someone from a dating app who doesn’t quite match up to how they’d billed themselves.
Hallam says, in many cases, it comes from the same place: people are just trying to put their best foot forward. “When you look at offline dating, it’s kind of the same,” Hallam told Insider. “You meet the best version on the first date.”
New laws could be making it safer to overshare online
Europe and California have introduced fierce consumer privacy laws with costly violation penalties. These laws require companies to tell their users about what data they’re collecting, and give them an opportunity to opt out.
These new laws could be changing how we share online, though dating apps are still surprisingly free to do what they want with their users.
Andrew Geronimo, a lawyer and professor at Case Western Reserve University, found this to be especially true in the case of a landmark 2019 lawsuit. Matthew Herrick sued Grindr after his boyfriend impersonated him on the app and sent over men to his home for sex (in other words: catfishing). Grindr defended itself with section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which says platforms aren’t liable for what their users do.
“That case illustrates some of the dangers that could happen by granting an app your location data and your personal information and the ability to message you at all times,” said Geronimo said.
Herrick’s case was dismissed, and Geronimo still encourages people to exercise caution on dating apps.
“Whatever information you put on there, I would treat all of that as this sort of the worst people in the world will eventually have access to it,” he told Insider.