For users of Tinder, OkCupid, Grindr, and other dating apps, offering up personal information is part of the process — that’s how the algorithms find potential matches. But dating apps collect and use much more personal data than you might realize, far beyond what people self-report.
Take this quiz, prepared in collaboration with Christo Wilson and Ahmad Bashir from Northeastern University’s Khoury College of Computer Sciences, and Ronald Robertson from the university’s Network Science Institute, to discover what information dating apps are storing, analyzing, and potentially monetizing — and what they’re not.
What information might dating apps use to make potential matches?
Dating apps are gathering — and using — a lot more information than the details in your profile. For instance, when you download a new app, you might give it permission to track your location even when it’s not in use; the company can then use that data to match you with others who frequent similar spots. An app might identify “lookalike” users who share your demographic characteristics and interests, and serve you new options according to their preferences. Even the number of seconds you spend hovering over a photo can reveal a lot about your tastes, based on whether the subject of the photo is smiling, their racial background, and more.
Facebook can track your activity on dating apps, even if you don’t have a Facebook account.
Facebook tracks users not only on its social platform, but also through third-party cookies, embedded widgets such as “Like” buttons, and other developer tools known as SDKs. These tools are embedded on other websites and apps, from news sites to dating services like OkCupid and Tinder. This is true even if you’ve deleted your Facebook account.
Dating apps can see the content of the private messages you send within the app.
Unless they note otherwise in their terms of service, dating apps can see anything you share internally on the app — including private messages, images, and photo attachments. “Private,” in these policies, means the messages can’t be seen by other users, but the service providers can see everything.
Which type of user data have dating apps sold to third-party advertisers, in violation of their own privacy policies?
A 2018 investigation by SINTEF, a Swedish nonprofit, found that Grindr, a popular dating app within the gay community, was giving two outside companies access to user profile information, including HIV status and “last tested” date.
Our smartphones listen to our conversations and report back to advertisers.
Though advertisers have occasionally listened to consumers without their knowledge, those cases are very rare. So it’s unlikely that your phone is actively listening to your conversation with your roommate about dinner. But your browsing activity offers up enough information that companies can make surprisingly precise inferences without needing to eavesdrop — like the time Target algorithms sent a high schooler baby product coupons before she had informed her family of her pregnancy.
Which kinds of websites or apps are least likely to host third-party data trackers?
Though dating apps have recently gotten in hot water for selling data, news sites are more likely to track your information. It all comes down to money: Websites that provide free editorial content often depend on ad revenue, so they face pressure to monetize pageviews by providing advertisers with user information associated with each click. Online dating sites and apps are mostly funded by subscriptions and account upgrades, so they’re not as incentivized to track your data for ad revenue. They do care, however, about tracking your activity online so they can target you with their own ads and convert you into a subscriber.
Which of these other dating apps could NOT access the data from your profile on Match.com?
Dozens of dating sites, including Match.com, OkCupid, Plenty of Fish, Hinge, and Tinder, are actually owned by one conglomerate, The Match Group. These co-owned apps reserve the right to share user information with one another. Bumble, eHarmony, Grindr, and a handful of other dating apps are owned by separate companies, so they likely won’t share data with The Match Group — for now. But The Match Group is aggressive about acquiring competitors.
Which of these alternate uses of Tinder’s data and platform have developers been able to hack?
While Tinder designed its service to be used according to specific, private protocols, independent developers have been able to access its interface, known as an application program interface (API), to maximize efficiency, scrape data sets for other purposes, and even catfish whole groups of users. So while the company asserts that it works diligently to prevent such misuse, you may want to think twice about the selfies and personal details you share on the app.
Which of these problems do the most online daters believe to be “very common”?
In a 2019 study by the Pew Research Center, 71 percent of survey respondents believed that lying online was “very common.” In contrast, 25 percent thought harassment was “very common,” and just 18 percent thought privacy issues were. Those perceptions didn’t match up with reality, however. Harassment, in particular, is far more common than perceived, especially for women under age 35.
Where you live affects how a dating app can collect and share your data.
Privacy protections vary depending on laws in your area. In 2008, Illinois passed the Biometric Information Privacy Act, which regulates the collection and storage of biometric information for things like facial recognition. In European Union countries, regulation adopted in 2018 strengthened existing data privacy laws by requiring consent for data processing. The California Consumer Privacy Act, also adopted in 2018, allows consumers to opt out of having their data sold; if companies don’t comply, consumers can sue.