What is online dating?

A privacy expert’s guide to online dating
Privacy news
18 mins
An illustration of a heart-shaped padlock.

Online dating is finding a romantic partner using the internet, typically through a dating app or a website. According to a study from Stanford, meeting online has become the most popular way for American couples to connect. Online dating is here to stay and will only continue to grow. (It’s even inspired a new category of apps for people looking for friends.)

But just because online dating has majorly picked up in popularity doesn’t mean it has to be your jam. Though it may work out for others, it may not work out for you.

When dating online, you’re prone to scams, fraud, or other kinds of deception. The truth is, whenever you sign up for a dating service, chances are you’re also relinquishing your privacy to a significant degree.

Whether you’re new to online dating or just want to jump back into the scene, we have some safety tips and common red flags to set you off on a fun, yet safe, online dating experience.

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Pros and cons of online dating
12 online dating safety tips
Common online dating red flags
Popular online dating apps
FAQ: About online dating

Pros and cons of online dating

Like traditional dating, online dating comes with many advantages and unforeseeable challenges. Let’s go through both pros and cons of online dating to see if it’s up your alley.

Pros of online dating


Online dating lets you meet new people at the convenience of your couch or anywhere with an internet connection. This provides flexibility for those who don’t have the time to meet people. The signup process is also pretty straightforward: Just upload a few photos of yourself and write out a biography, and you’re all set!

Variety of potential partners

Online dating brings you potential partners with different personality types and hobbies. It gives you the opportunity to meet people who you wouldn’t otherwise encounter in your daily life.

No need to dress up for online dating

When you find a match, you’ll likely start chatting with them over texts or calls. Until you decide to meet up in person, you don’t have to spend the time and effort to dress up to make an impression.

You’re more relaxed

With online dating, you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your home. You can also respond to your matches’ texts whenever you want to. It’s all in your hands: There is no obligation to check in with each other daily, and you can just end the conversation at any time, no big deal.

Lower fear of rejection

Before online dating, you had to walk up to strangers at a bar to get a date. The discomfort of getting rejected right in the face by someone you showed feelings for is almost unavoidable. If you’re rejected by your fellow online daters, the stakes are much lower since you’ve never met that person in real life—and probably won’t, if that matters.

Suitable for shy people

Not everyone is comfortable with approaching strangers at a bar or party. For what it’s worth, talking to strangers can be anxiety-inducing to some. Online dating is helpful because you can stay behind a screen and don’t need to put yourself out there.

Connect to more potential partners at once

With numerous dating apps and sites on the market, you’re presented with more options for potential partners than ever before. Unlike traditional dating, you are at liberty to talk to or meet as many of your online matches as you want. Chances are your fellow daters are doing the same thing.

Online dating has become socially accepted

We all live such busy lives nowadays, reducing our chances of meeting someone compatible. As more people turn to online dating to find their match, the stigma that was attached to online dating in the past is quickly fading.

Cons of online dating

May attract the wrong types of people

People’s reasoning for swiping right or left on dating apps is mostly based on attractiveness and what you can offer. If you’re an attractive or wealthy individual, your online matches may only be interested in your good looks and money, but not your personality. This means you may end up attracting the wrong types of people and wasting your time.

People often don’t look like their pictures

Many people enhance their photos slightly to make them look better on their dating profile. But some take it to the next level and alter their photos to the point where they look nothing like they are in real life. Even if a photo was accurate, it could be from many years ago.

If you’re in doubt about the accuracy of someone’s photos, initiate a video call with them before asking to meet up. Although they can still use a filter on video calls, you should be able to make a better judgment from there. When meeting your online date in person, don’t expect them to look exactly the same as in their photos.

Harder to connect

With online dating, the whole meet-and-greet takes place through a screen. You’ll exchange some texts on a regular basis or hop on a phone call to get to know each other better. But since all communications are taking place digitally (at least early on), it’s harder to build up the same connection that you would have gotten through traditional dating where you can look each other in the face, and share eye contact and a few laughs.

More dependent on looks

With little other information to go by, your online matches can only gauge their interest based on how you look. If you care less about superficial attributes, online dating may not work out for you.

Online dating can be costly

While most dating apps and sites are free to download, many require you to pay a monthly subscription to chat with and get more matches. Be prepared to throw in a few extra dollars if you use extended features like sending virtual gifts or browsing matches from another country.

Fake personal profiles

Not all profiles are real: Attackers and scammers can easily sign up for a dating profile. Instead of looking for love, they’re looking to steal your personal information, sell things to you, or worse, scam you for money. Read on to learn about common red flags for a fake profile.

Many people do not have serious intentions

You probably have a few friends who met their significant other through an online dating app or site. While many have successfully tied the knot with their online match, the truth is—many people on dating apps or sites are not looking for a relationship. Some are there to look for sexual partners, sell things to you, or scam you for money. Expect the least, so you don’t get disappointed.

Harder to maintain relationships through online dating

Online dating platforms provide an abundance of potential partners. People can easily cut ties with the ones they’re talking to and swipe on new matches at their fingertips. There’s usually no commitment involved, at least during the early stage of communication, it’s harder to maintain or grow a relationship when people know there are plenty of fish in the pool.

Privacy concerns related to online dating

Dating apps and sites aren’t just about sharing your information with swiping singles. A report released by the Norwegian Consumer Council reported that popular dating apps—including OkCupid, Grindr, and Tinder—are disclosing “dating choices and precise location to advertising and marketing companies.” In addition, OkCupid, Coffee Meets Bagel, and Jack’d have all reported data breaches in the past.

12 online dating safety tips

1. Choosing the best dating app for you

The first step to choosing the best dating app is to ensure it’s not a fake app meant to look like the real thing. As for fake apps, we’ve collated a list of clues you can use to spot them.

Check the download count

Popular dating apps like Tinder can easily have thousands of downloads, if not millions. If you see a popular app with a surprisingly low download count, it’s an obvious red flag.

Check the app icon

Fake apps will also display an app icon that looks similar to a real one, usually by usingthe same color and shape. It plays on our familiarity with these brands so we won’t question their legitimacy.

Take note of the release date

Most popular apps have already been on the market for a while. So if you see a popular app that was only recently released, it’s likely it’s a fake app.

Read the reviews

It’s always wise to read the app’s reviews before downloading it. Here’s how reviews can give away whether an app is fake or not.

  • If an app is fake, users usually complain about it in the review section.
  • If the reviews sound too good to be true, the app is probably fake, too. Needless to say, those are fake reviews created by fake app creators.

Research the developer’s name

Every app has a developer, which is essentially the company that created the app. Fake apps can use a developer name that has a similar spelling to its original counterpart. When in doubt, research the developer’s name to find out more about them.

Look out for typos and grammar mistakes

Typos and grammatical mistakes should be uncommon with legitimate app developers, as they usually have a team of editors taking care of the copy before releasing their apps. If an app you’re trying to download has an obvious typo or grammar mistake in the app name or app description, it’s probably fake.

Review the app permissions

We can all agree that terms of service agreements are boring to read! But when you’re in doubt of the legitimacy of an app, be mindful of the permissions you’re asked to give. Fake apps often have strange and unrelated app permissions requests. For example, a photo editing app asking for your contact list is definitely a red flag.

2. Sign up with a throwaway email address

When signing up for a dating service, there are plenty of reasons to keep your real email address private. Maybe you just hate being bombarded with dating-related missives, or perhaps you don’t want your email address linked to your profile on the off chance their database is hacked. Regardless, it’s a good general rule to use a burner email for any service that you don’t fully trust. And no matter how easy or convenient it seems, definitely don’t sign up using your Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram credentials if you can avoid it.

3. Take your conversation outside the app

This advice may seem counterintuitive at first glance, but as long as you are using an end-to-end encrypted messaging app that doesn’t require you to give out your personal phone number, it’s actually a safer bet. The alternative—having all your chats saved on a dating app’s servers—gives the service free rein to scan all your private messages and puts your conversation history at risk of being leaked in a data breach.

Multiple dating apps have also been found to be lacking encryption. This means that others on the same network as you (say, your company’s IT department if you’re on work Wi-Fi or someone on the same cafe hotspot) could possibly uncover whose profile you’ve viewed, which way you’re swiping, and even what photos and messages you’re sending.

Some secure messaging apps such as Telegram and Wire don’t require your phone number to use. If you have a preferred service that is phone number-based, like Signal, The Intercept has a full guide on how to create an account without revealing your personal phone number.

4. Limit how much location data is shared

In 2017, a journalist asked Tinder for her data and received 800 pages of information related to her use of the app. That is unsurprising considering that most dating apps are collecting all sorts of information as you swipe, type, and meet up with online matches. Dating apps also collect continuous, real-time location data, posing a significant privacy risk. In March 2020, the U.S. government forced the Chinese firm that owned Grindr to sell the service over national security concerns, including the potential that Beijing could track American officials’ movements or influence them based on their dating habits.

Even if you’re not a national security risk, it’s good to check the privacy settings of your dating app and limit access. If possible, use dating apps via the website on your desktop computer, rather than on a mobile app. This will help limit the location data that the service can gather. Companies also use details like IP addresses to figure out the location of their users, so using a proxy will help to hide your physical location by obfuscating your real IP.

5. Use different photos for your dating profile

Also avoid using the same photos used for your social media account profile pictures, as a Google image search would lead someone to your social account or confirm your identity. Better yet, use different photos for each profile if you’re on more than one dating app.

6. Avoid connecting with suspicious profiles

If the person you’ve matched with doesn’t have a biography and has few to no photos, it’s probably a fake account trying to scam you.

7. Be wary of opening attachments or links

Did your online match just send you an attachment or URL when you were least expecting it? Although it can seem harmless enough, it could spread malware onto your device once clicked or opened.

8. Block and report suspicious users

If a match keeps pushing for your personal information, harassing you, or just making you feel uncomfortable in any way, do not hesitate to block and report them straight away.

9. Keep your personal information private

If your online matches already know your name and age, there’s no need to give them more of your personal information, like your phone number and where you live. Also, don’t give them your social media handles just yet, as that enables them to track your identity.

10. Don’t respond to requests for financial help

Your matches may tell you they’re in need of money because their loved one just passed away or they had an emergency. No matter how convincing their reason can seem, never respond to any kind of financial request. Even if their reason is genuine, you’re not obliged to help someone you don’t even know. If you get such a request, report it to the app or site you’re using to keep others safe.

11. Video chat before you meet up in person

After matching with a potential date and chatting, schedule a video chat with them before meeting up in person. This is a good way to verify your match is the same person they claim to be in their profile.

12. Meet in a public place

Meeting in a secluded location can sound adventurous to some, but for the first date, it’s best to choose a safe public place with plenty of other people around. If your date turns out to be dangerous, you can get help in your immediate surroundings. Here are some more tips to follow before and when arriving on a date:

Tell a friend where you’re going

Logic will tell you that you shouldn’t go on a date with someone you have doubts about. But if you still want to give it a shot, you should at the very least let a close friend know where and when you plan to go on your date, and how long you expect to be out.

Don’t drink a pre-ordered drink

If you’ve arrived on your date and see a drink already served, do not drink it. There’s a chance that it’s been spiked. Make up an excuse that the drink isn’t suited to your taste and order a new one instead.

Stick to what you’re most comfortable with

Doing something that’s out of your comfort zone can be a rewarding experience in general, but probably not on your first date. It’s best to stick to what you’re most comfortable with to feel the best about yourself and keep a cool head.

Trust your instincts

If something feels off, it usually is. Trust your instincts and don’t be afraid to cut your date short. On any occasion, your comfort and safety should come first.

Common online dating red flags

Doesn’t respect boundaries

Is your online match constantly pushing you to meet up? Are they always asking you to share your personal information like your phone number or Instagram handle? People should respect the boundaries you set, and more so if you haven’t met them yet. If they don’t respect your boundaries, it’s probably best to move on.

Won’t ever meet up in person

Are they never up for making plans although they say they’re interested? Do they say they have a busy schedule or suddenly have to be out of town for work? If they never seem to want to meet you in person, chances are they have a hidden agenda or aren’t interested in you.

In addition, scammers will act interested in going on a date with you to keep you around. As soon as you give them what they want, they’ll cancel on you and vanish from the radar.

Immediately asks for your personal information

Scammers will skip the small talk and ask for your number or email right away. At a minimum, they can sell your information and send spam calls or emails your way. Worse, they can contact services and pretend to be you to take control of your accounts.

Suspiciously perfect profile

Fake profiles will look “perfect” to draw you in. They typically look like models and use photos that depict a lavish lifestyle, like resorts, supercars, and private jets. Their biography will say they’re famous, rich, or even royal. Their intention is to make you drop your guard and do what they tell you to do. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

A profile lacking detail

Dating profiles that have most of the parts blank can mean two things: The person isn’t looking for something serious, or it’s a fake profile in disguise. Scammers fishing for targets are probably running their cons on multiple platforms at once and don’t have the time to write out each profile. This can also be intentional to “weed out” people who would be unlikely to fall for their scam.

Evasive about questions

Scammers have no interest in having an exchange or a conversation with you. They’ll dodge questions and escalate the romance to make you fall for them and do what they want. They also know the more questions they answer, the more likely they won’t keep their story straight and will give themselves away.

Asks for risky pictures

Someone who is genuinely interested in getting to know you is likely to develop conversations with you instead of asking for your explicit photos. Sending sexual content to someone you don’t even know is also dangerous.

Professes their love for you too soon

Scammers will shower you with affection to win your trust. They’ll give you plenty of compliments or tell you you’re “the one” or their “soulmate” before getting to know you.

Asks for money or gifts

Scammers will make you feel bad for them with a sob story about the recent death of a close one and ask you for some kind of financial support. They will also tell you their birthday has just passed and ask you for gifts to show that you’re serious about them.


Match is a dating site which can also be accessed through an app. As the first dating website which was founded in 1995, Match follows a more traditional pathway for online dating where members search through others’ profiles and send messages. You can use the free version or pay a subscription fee to use more features.


Tinder, founded in 2012, is the biggest dating app in the market. It lets users browse through online profiles through swiping: swipe left to pass and right to like. It turned online dating from a laborious process into a fun one, changing the way people date and find relationships. Although Tinder has had its success, it’s believed to be geared more toward casual sex rather than serious relationships.


Kippo is a dating app for gamers. It has a virtual world within its app called the Kippoverse, which lets users go on virtual dates and participate in shared experiences.


Bumble was founded by the cofounder of Tinder and is the second-biggest dating app in the market. Similar to Tinder, Bumble uses swiping to indicate a preference, but female users are required to send the first message to their matches to start the conversation.

Clover dating app

The Clover dating app claims to be a hybrid of swipe-apps and compatibility-focused apps, pulling features from other dating apps. However, many of the features are hidden behind a paygate.


Hinge is a U.S. based dating app that works similarly to Tinder and Bumble. Hinge has a more modern, visual interface that is appealing to an elite demographic.

Most importantly: Don’t do online what you wouldn’t do offline

Dating apps are often compared to bars full of singles. If that’s the case, those bars are run by some real creeps. Would you let a bar manager follow you everywhere you go? Or entrust them with all your private photos? Wouldn’t you prefer to step outside to chat if you saw that the bartender and other patrons were recording all your flirty conversations?

Whether at a bar or online, dating requires you to put yourself out there a bit—but you should have control over how much. Take stock of where your online dating data is going, who has access to it, and how it may be used. And if all else fails, take your romantic quest offline like the remaining 61% of couples.

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