R. Paul Wilson On: The Tinder Trap
Modern dating apps offer a convenient method to meet people (hopefully) searching for similar relationships but this form of digital matchmaking is not without potential problems.
An Outside Perspective
Having never used a dating app to connect with anyone, I find them a little dehumanising in the way they boil people down to statistics and worrisome because they allow users to create their own profile for potential partners.
In the past, video dating was often the butt of jokes or comedy sketches but the business itself seemed to filter people according to who they actually were rather than who they claimed to be.
I’m sure this was far from universal but as far as I can tell, when a bald, overweight man signed up, he was coached to not claim he was an athlete with a full head of hair!
In fact, in the early days, customers would need to meet the company in person to record their videos and in the process, verify who they claimed to be.
Today, people seem free to make any kind of claim on their dating profiles and the term ‘Catfishing’ – where people use photographs and fake identities – has become well known and synonymous with online dating.
As a result, the multi-functional mask of digital distance has created an all-too useful tool for countless crimes or horrific acts under the cover of online anonymity.
As an observer, I worry that online dating is all too easy to take advantage of and is sure to attract many types of low-lifes and bad actors, not least con artists for whom these apps are rich pickings filled with potential victims.
Into The Matrix
To find out more, I first spoke with friends who use apps like Tinder, Bumble, Plenty of Fish, Facebook, and Grindr.
Most were looking for potential relationships, but all seemed open to short encounters or hook-ups (incidentally, not all of the people I spoke with were male).
From this, I learned that dishonest or vague profiles and bots were the most common annoyance with trolls or assholes being the worst types of people (so far) encountered.
But for the most part, their experiences were similar. While few had found a long-term relationship, they enjoyed the format and felt it to be a good way to meet people.
I spent a few days exploring each app and soon learned how they offered paid services to remove ads or add better functionality to the experience.
I might characterise some of these tactics as sharp practice and remain curious to learn if premium membership offers any benefits in terms of online security or perhaps even advantages for online scammers but that’s a much deeper rabbit hole (I’m always available if app developers want to learn how vulnerable their platform is to deception).
This was just a casual tour through each service to gain an understanding of the opportunities they present to con artists or hustlers and as I swiped my way through each app, reading as many profiles as I could, the potential for scammers became obvious.
Too Much Information
There’s nothing clever about the biggest problem I found; in fact, it was disappointingly predictable.
People give away far too many details about who they are, what they do, where they live and how they might be contacted (or physically located) by strangers.
Any profile that was longer than a few lines tended to give away much more than anyone should be comfortable sharing with anonymous strangers.
I also saw interesting trends in the people I swiped past in terms of job trends, stated interests, habits and information about close family, pets or living situation.
If I were a real con artist, I could profile users (male and female) and categorise them for different kinds of scams like a buffet of potential victims.
I’m not here to recommend you don’t use these services or to propose a fix for these problems (though I can think of several ways to better protect users and offer a more effective matchmaking service) I’d just like to advocate a little caution on your part.
Most dating sites will ask you for a variety of details and while my natural paranoia balks even at the basic stuff (since it can all be used to profile people) it’s in the personal descriptions where many people provide dangerous insights into their lives and location.
I’m the last person who should tell anyone how to write an effective dating service description that’s guaranteed to attract the perfect mate but please take a moment to consider the possibility that someone you’d rather never have connect with might use that description to search for and find key data that most of us should keep private.
I’m also not advocating falsehoods since this is an arena where honesty might be rewarded by genuine life-changing relationships, though it should be pointed out that the dating scene in all of its guises has been replete with liars, takers and manipulators seeking (mostly) one thing.
On The Road
People use these apps while traveling, which opens up other concerns.
Hustlers in big tourist towns or convention cities prey on transient victims with everything from old school con games to blackmail scams, so be aware that while these crooks may be the minority of real people on any particular service, they are definitely out there.
In his travels he has found Tinder (and other apps) to be a great way to make connections but as he observed, most people who use these services on the road are not seeking long-term relationships.
This means (to me) that anyone local who is willing to engage is either aware of the short-term nature of such encounters, naive or could be a potential scammer trawling for targets with a variety of goals.
I See Your Bot
By simply being aware enough to be cautious, users have a better chance of avoiding the anti-lottery of online scams and scammers but not everyone who signs up for a dating app – or indeed any kind of interactive media – has the necessary knowledge to filter out potential swindlers.
This is the only explanation for how so many bots seem to be active on every platform, each attempting a poor variation on the Turing Test that somehow works on real humans.
These bots often initiate chats in order to propose offline contact away from the security measures of the app being used.
This becomes an effective filtration system to weed out the wary and to collect more susceptible potential victims eager to connect using alternate software that might expose them to all manners of deception.
A bot may seem blazingly obvious to you but with the right programming and objective-oriented dialogue, you’d be surprised how many people can be fooled by pre-determined chat.
As another friend observed, that’s pretty much how successful (human) daters operate; re-using lines of conversation that had the desired effect in the past.
Just Be Careful
None of this is to advocate away from any method that might bring people together for their mutual benefit but whenever such a thing exists – from a singles bar to a dating app – scammers will always be attracted like moths to a flame and it’s in all our best interests to step lightly and verify that people are who and what they claim.
I could dig much deeper into this topic but if the apps themselves would be more pro-active about informing their customers to keep them safe, scammers would find far fewer victims online.
The more people understand about the dangers of over-sharing personal data, the better for everyone.