Online dating has rapidly gained in popularity as a common way to connect to potential dates or find a partner. Dating sites range from major companies with millions of users from all walks of life to niche sites that cater to specific communities based on interests or background. Some women who are wary of meeting in person, or prefer to be able to choose the identity they present to the world, may find more flexibility or comfort online.
Many people have concerns about the safety of online dating, often due to widely publicized stories of assault and violence. While it’s true that online harassment and abuse may fall under a number of crimes, depending on what is happening, for anyone considering online dating, especially women who may have heightened privacy risks, it’s important to have information about privacy and safety options. Everyone should be able to be online safely, free from harassment and abuse, and that includes dating.
Dating sites rely on gathering and selling information about users for marketing and to make a profit. This is important because the perception of anonymity online may not match the reality – private and intimate information about users is gathered and sold by most sites. In addition to the routine sharing of user data for marketing, dating sites have exposed users’ personal information accidentally through bugs in their software, and through inadequate security, allowing hackers to access personal and financial information.
Young adults, and particularly young women, experience online harassment at a high rate. People who identify with other marginalized groups are more likely to experience harassment. Online dating represents a small portion of where people say that online harassment happens.
Harassment, threats, and abuse that happen “only” online should be taken seriously. Such experiences can be traumatizing, and may include financial crime or identity theft. Victims report efforts to ruin their reputations and drive them from online community. If enough identifying information is known, the abuse can also quickly become an offline threat.
STRATEGIES TO INCREASE PRIVACY AND SAFETY
The most common concern with online dating is safety, especially as users move to meet up in real life. People often ask, “How do you know the other person is really who they say they are?” and “How can I protect myself?” Another concern with online dating, and dating in real life, is the non-consensual sharing of intimate images. Read more about Images, Consent, and Abuse in this toolkit. While most sites offer tips to increase safety, most advice puts the responsibility on the potential victim.
There have been several dating services designed and marketed to increase feelings of safety and empowerment when dating online, particularly for women and LGBTQ people. One common approach is to limit potential matches to people who are friends of your friends (through Facebook or another social media platform). However, this approach is driven by the fear of attack by strangers, while, in fact, the majority of assaults and abuse are perpetrated by an acquaintance or someone known.
When using online dating services, you may want to consider some of these steps to increase your safety and privacy online.
Connecting Online with Potential Dates
Considering meeting in real life (IRL)
Evidence & Documentation
Women experiencing, or who have experienced, abuse that began online, may choose to report their experiences to the dating platforms or to the legal system. Often a site’s Terms of Service will state what kind of behavior is not allowed and a woman may ask to have someone removed based on that.
Because the technology uses both hardware like computers or smartphones, as well as Internet providers and the dating company’s servers, digital evidence may be available. In addition, women may consider taking pictures, screenshots, or saving other relevant information. See our tips on documenting abuse, and a sample documentation log.
©2019 BC Society of Transition Houses, Technology Safety Project.
Adapted from and in cooperation with the Safety Net Technology Project at the National Network to End Domestic Violence, United States