Digital Life

This Week’s Topic: Tips For Safe Online Dating

hearts, colors, love
"Heart bokeh 2" by Lee Ann on flickr (CC-BY-NC)
Solana Larsen
Written by Solana Larsen

Web We Want’s newsletter highlights one important topic every week and tells you what you need to know in 3 minutes or less.


It’s hard to believe, but that buxom brunette who is eager to chat with you is really a sexbot. And the online dating site won’t give you a refund, because their terms and conditions say some content is for “entertainment” only. So you deal with the fake profiles and take safety precautions on dates. But after you found love and unsubscribed, the company sold your personal data to online marketers. With your consent.

… but guard your privacy and be careful who you trust
Is there no one you can trust? Love is always fraught with risks — even if you aren’t a victim of scams, sexual assault, extortion, or harassment. Only the most unlucky are outed by hackers for using a gay dating app inside Russia’s government or for using a U.S. government email to seek an affair. Don’t let the scary stories hold you back from finding a sweetheart online. But do think twice about any romantic details you divulge digitally, whether on a commercial service or privately.

An “I love you” message could land you in jail in Cameroon if you are gay. And sexy photos commonly shared between teenagers with smartphones have been tried under tough child pornography laws in the US, UK, Canada and Australia. Laws everywhere are only gradually updated to new digital realities, and too many people are unaware of the potential risks for privacy infractions. Even if you usually have nothing to hide, some things are just better kept behind closed doors, right? Like the millions of Yahoo webcam images intercepted and stored from 2008-2010 through mass surveillance by British and US surveillance agencies.

Who’s Doing Something?

The Sexy Guide to Digital Security by women of the Brazilian Codingrights.org (supported by Web We Want’s small grants programme) spreads the word about digital security (print pages, fold, cut with scissors).

The Online Dating Association in the UK is an industry group that works to improve the standards of online dating services with a code of practice and member certification.

Consumer Affairs in the US tracks online dating complaints and scams and offers ratings and reviews of online dating sites with hundreds of comments by consumers. In 2012, EFF compared the privacy and security practices of popular online dating sites.

For victims of online harassment or “revenge porn” the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative in the US has a 24-hour crisis number and helps with legal defense and public advocacy.

What Should I Do?

 Both you and the recipient need to encrypt to be safe. Study email and surveillance self defense. Only flirt off the record in chats and on phones.

 Follow safety advice for online dating and use Google Image search (click camera icon in search field) to see if profile photos of prospective dates belong to more than one person.

 Do research before you sign up with any online dating service. What are their cancellation clauses and do they share data?

 Do not let scams by companies or individuals go unchallenged. Help others consumers by complaining and spreading the word.

 Read this poem and fall in love with your privacy.

About the author

Solana Larsen

Solana Larsen

Solana Larsen is co-author of the cookbook "Recipes for a Digital Revolution". She writes a newsletter for Web We Want and helped create this website. Formerly, she was the managing editor of Global Voices Online. Solana is a Danish-Puerto Rican journalist and digital activist.

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