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Why You Shouldn’t Overshare On Dating Apps

IBM found that most mobile dating apps are quite hack-able. Here’s how to avoid having your nude selfies show up in your boss’s inbox.

Why You Shouldn’t Overshare On Dating Apps
[Photo: Flickr user Al Fernandez]

As Valentine’s Day rolls around, you might be thinking about stepping up your game on Tinder, Grindr, or OKCupid. Here’s a friendly word of advice from IBM security expert Caleb Barlow: “Don’t.”

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While there has not been a major hack on a dating platform so far, IBM’s research indicates that a cyberattack may be around the corner.

It turns out that those flirtatious messages and sexy pictures you’re sending HotBod25 and SweetCheeks22 might not be as safe as dating apps would lead you to believe. In a study released today, IBM closely scrutinized the 41 top dating apps on Google Play and found that 60% are highly vulnerable to attack, which could put personal user information at risk. “These are poor coding practices in the apps that make it very easy for an attacker to steal your private and sensitive information,” Barlow says. (He means your nude selfies.) IBM’s research also found that employees used identified vulnerable dating apps in nearly 50% of businesses they sampled, putting all of their corporate data at risk as well.

Cyberattacks have become a fixture in the news cycle (just yesterday the White House announced the formation of a new agency to fight such attacks), but it would be a mistake to assume that all security breaches are the same. Hackers are able to yield very specific kinds of data depending on the industry they are targeting. Last year’s Sony hack resulted in the leaking of–among other things–juicy email exchanges from top executives making racist jokes about President Obama and hating on Angelina Jolie. And this year’s attack on Anthem has left millions of customers vulnerable to medical identity theft, which allows another person to use a fake identity to get prescription drugs or file claims.

Now imagine the kind of data you share on a dating app. Barlow points out that people tend to share personal details with prospective romantic partners very quickly after meeting them. You might discuss your family members, your previous dating or sexual history, private details about your job, or just sweet nothings that you would be horrified for other people to see. IBM did not want to disclose which apps were particularly vulnerable, but Barlow says it does not really matter, because users should adopt some best practices regardless of the dating app they’re using. “It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use these apps,” he says. “By all means you should go out and have some fun, but you have got to be very cautious about the kind of information you share.”

Barlow recommends the following strategies when using a mobile dating app:

  • Be mysterious: You don’t need to divulge all your personal information on these sites. Maybe save some of the details for in-person conversations.
  • Turn off GPS: You only need it to locate nearby matches. When you’re not using that function, switch it off.
  • Fake your info: Now that SweetCheeks22 knows your mother’s maiden name, the make of your first car, and your father’s date of birth, he or she can probably figure out the answers to all your backup security questions. The solution: Use fake answers to these questions.
  • Don’t use public Wi-Fi: It is easy for third parties to monitor information that people share on a public Wi-Fi network. It’s a much safer to rely your cellular data.
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About the author

Elizabeth Segran, Ph.D., is a staff writer at Fast Company. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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