This Valentine’s Day, many will spend time with their significant others enjoying wine, dinner, and chocolate. For those individuals who are still looking for that special someone, you might be using one of the many mobile dating apps available on Apple and Android smartphones. If you are, please take a few moments to make yourself aware of potential privacy and data security concerns, bots, and online romance scams.

The main players

There are many popular mobile dating apps that cater to different audiences. You might have heard of some of them: Tinder, OKCupid, Bumble, and Grindr are commonly known mobile dating apps. Some of these apps are available for free for download, whereas others require monthly paid subscriptions.

How do they work?

So how does this big, wide world of dating apps work? Generally speaking, users download their preferred dating app and create a profile that uses a combination of pictures and text. Using your phone’s geolocation, the dating app locates other users within a preferred geographic range, and prompts you to look at their profiles.

Many popular dating apps incorporate a “swipe” feature that lets you select whether you are interested in a specific person’s profile or not. For example, if two users who are connected through the app show their interest by swiping the screen of their phone, the mobile app will “match” them, and allow them to begin a chat. In contrast, other popular dating apps allow users to message any user on the platform.

Privacy concerns

Many mobile dating apps are available for free on the app stores. In order to monetize these apps, the app publishers incorporate third-party code that helps facilitate interest-based advertising, also known as targeted advertising or IBA. Be aware that mobile dating apps may share your device information, precise location data, and other data with third-party advertisers. In some cases, mobile dating apps may also share gender or sexuality preferences with third parties.

If you are concerned about your privacy when using mobile dating apps, where the option is available, consider paying a monthly fee as opposed to using the free version of the app. Check out your app’s privacy settings for opt-out tools, and if you are concerned about interest-based advertising, use your smartphone’s system settings for Apple and Android to opt out, or download the Digital Advertising Alliance’s AppChoices app.

Security concerns

Data security is a big deal nowadays, even in the mobile dating app world. Privacy advocates have pointed out that some mobile dating apps are not protected by HTTPS, a type of encryption, making them more vulnerable to hackers. Other security researchers have found that certain features of dating apps, such as chat logs and private picture exchanges, may not be properly secured from bad actors that could be monitoring users. While mobile app publishers are working to improve their security, be aware that when you’re swiping for that special someone bad actors may be able to intercept your data.

Bots and malware

Unfortunately, every once in a while, that really good-looking person you see on a dating app may be a “bot,” which is a type of software. The purpose of many of these bots is to prompt users to click on a link leading to an outside site that contains malware (a type of malicious code).

Here are a few ways to tell if a person you’ve encountered on a mobile dating app is actually a bot:

     1. On an individual’s profile, keep an eye open for obvious pictures of celebrities, clearly photoshopped pictures, or highly stylized photos that appear to be staged.

     2. After you’ve “matched” with the individual, be wary of a flood of personal messages or an immediate invitation to a sexual encounter or long-term relationship.

     3. If you are worried an individual is a bot, ask a personal question, such as “Do you like sushi?” and see if the person gives you a bizarre response. If the response is strange, chances are the person is a bot.

     4. Finally, if the person you are chatting with is sending you strange-looking links, there’s a good chance that person might be a bot. Make sure you don’t click on these links.

Dating app scams

Unfortunately, the online dating world is a fertile place for scam activity, and romance scams are among the most costly. In recent years, romance scams have been increasing in frequency, and they often yield to high monetary losses: according to the 2017 Scam Tracker Risk Report, romance scams involved both a median loss of $1500.00 and a high degree of susceptibility.

In the digital world, scammers might engage in catfishing -- taking on false identities to lure you into taking certain actions. They might pretend they are a veteran in need of extra cash, or use photos of a model or a celebrity to lure you into situations where you may want to send them money. Therefore, make sure you exercise good, old-fashioned common sense when you’re chatting with someone on a mobile dating app.  Never send money, credit card information, or sensitive personal details without meeting the person in real life first. Also, for a closer look at romance scams, a 2018 BBB study, “Online Romance Scams: How Scammers Use Impersonation, Blackmail, and Trickery to Steal from Unsuspecting Daters” examines how these scams work, who the scammers are, and what is being done to combat them.

Exercise caution

In today’s digital world, mobile dating apps are no doubt a thrilling new way to find romantic partners. But to maintain your privacy and security and avoid scams, make sure to exercise a healthy degree of caution. For more information about privacy, digital literacy, and anti-fraud education, visit the BBB Institute for Marketplace Trust’s website, and learn about our efforts to build trust between consumers and businesses.