Dating apps are officially mainstream, and stereotypes about online dating are quickly disappearing from public opinion. But this new attitude towards meetings strangers from the internet comes with some dangerous disregard for personal safety.
The Tinder generation is very familiar with public vs. private social media use, and has grown up surrounded by messages about how to stay safe online. With that being said, online dating is a unique blending of your personal and public online personas—and it can be difficult to know where to draw the line with the information you share.
Facts are facts. Your profile on a dating app or website can easily be seen by hundreds of people (whether or not you match), and there’s absolutely no guarantee that all of these people are genuine. For this reason, it’s always best to keep your profile as anonymous as possible until after you’ve got to know a potential match.
In this article, we explain how to stay anonymous and protect your privacy on a number of popular dating apps.
The Basics of Online Dating Privacy
This article isn’t about hiding who you are behind a fake name, fake profile, or fake photos.
Out of all the online dating mistakes you can make, lying about who you are is the hardest to forgive. Online dating has real-life consequences and you want the people you’re talking to to get to know the real you. With that being said, your personal safety should always come first.
Some online safety guidelines should go without saying, but just in case you need the reminder, these are the three rules everyone should follow no matter what:
- Never share your full name, address, or phone number publicly on a dating site or app.
- Avoid scams by refusing to provide any kind of payment information over the app or website.
- Don’t post any photos on a dating site or app that you wouldn’t want your boss (or grandmother) to see.
Beyond the Basics of Online Dating Privacy
Essentially, most of what this article recommends stems from one question:
“Based on your dating profile’s photos and bio, what could another user learn about you from a single online search?”
Trust me: With recent updates to Facebook’s search algorithm, you’re easier to find than you think. All it takes is a unique first name, a small university graduating class, a sports team jersey, or a friend in common to pull up your Facebook profile.
From there, it’s easy to learn your full name, which can then be typed into Google. A single Google Search later, and this complete stranger could know where you work, about clubs or causes you’re a part of, other social media profiles, favorite places to go in your hometown, or even your contact information.
Online dating seems like a game, until it isn’t. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, and staying anonymous online is the best way to do that.
How to Stay Anonymous on Tinder and Bumble
Tinder and Bumble are incredibly popular swiping-based dating apps. These apps typically pull your name, age, and employment from your Facebook profile, and then link all your interests (all of the pages you’ve ever liked on Facebook over the past 10 years), your photos, and your mutual friends.
It’s super convenient, but also super creepy. Here’s what you can do to help:
- Remove Your Workplace/School: The easiest way to find someone on Facebook is to filter a search for their first name by their school and/or workplace. This information isn’t required, so hide it from your public profile. This goes double for people who work at small companies; you don’t want strangers to be able to find you on your lunch break.
- Change Your Primary Photo: Both of these apps auto-fill your current Facebook profile photo to be your primary dating profile photo as well. These two photos should not be identical, because it’s the easiest way for someone to confirm that they’ve found the right “Jenny from Houston” on Facebook.
- Don’t Link to Instagram: Linking your Instagram to your profile seems like a great idea. After all, it lets you share more photos of yourself with potential matches and offers a built-in guarantee that you’re a real person with a real life. But, be careful. Your Instagram profile likely offers a lot more information about your favorite places and activities than you realize, and it gives access to not only your own photos but also photos and comments made by your friends as well.
- Reconsider Your Social Media Handles: It’s a common tactic to stick an Instagram, Twitter, or WhatsApp username into your bio. And as long as you’re cautious about what you post on these accounts it can be a good way to connect with people off the app. That being said, when your social media usernames contain your full name, your last name, or other identifying information, you may want to reconsider.
- Register Without Facebook: Even though these apps would prefer you to link through your Facebook account, you can sign up using a phone number instead. This prevents the app from automatically sharing key information about your likes and friends with other users. You are more in control of everything that gets shown on your profile, including your name.
- Be Cautious with Location Features: On the one hand, it’s great that these apps limit your potential matches to a specific geographical radius. On the other hand, be cautious with how often you check in to the app and where you check into the app, as your matches can check to see how far away from them you are at any given moment.
How to Stay Anonymous on Match and OkCupid
Classic dating sites such as Match.com and OkCupid can offer a more holistic look at potential matches before you decide whether or not you’re interested.
This is great for getting to know someone (and looks adorable in advertisements), but it’s also a great way for creeps to find out a lot about you without your knowledge. It’s just as important to be safe on these apps and sites. Here’s how:
- Use an Anonymous Username: Unlike apps that link to Facebook, you get to choose an anonymous username on these app. Choose wisely. Don’t include your first or last name, your year of birth, or any other identifying information.
- Block People Ruthlessly: One benefit to apps that connect to a Facebook profile or cell phone number is that it helps to verify that potential matches are real people. Use extreme caution when communicating with people on anonymous sites, and block mercilessly if anyone gives off even slightly creepy vibes.There are plenty more fish in the sea, so there’s no need to let people you don’t trust have unlimited access to the information in your profile.
- Be Coy With Your Answers: Profile-heavy sites and apps like OkCupid can lead to oversharing. It’s good to give potential matches an insight into your personality. It’s not a good idea to give details about your favorite places to go in the city, teams/groups you’re a part of, or describing your work using buzzwords that might lead to a hit on Google.
- Be Cautious with Your Photos: Even more so than on swiping-based apps, your photos on apps like like Match can be subject to scrutiny by literally anyone on the internet. Are you wearing a name tag in any photos? What about a jersey with your last name on it? Any hints like this could lead to strangers learning more about you than you’d like.
- Enable Private Mode: If you’re okay with doing most of the leg work, Match’s “private mode” is one of the best ways to ensure that your profile is locked down as much as possible while still being able to connect with other singles. This setting ensures that only the people you’ve expressed interest in can see your profile.
- Don’t Agree to Meet Until After a Video Chat: As this article has shown, it’s easy (and important) to remain relatively anonymous while online dating. But unfortunately this works both ways, and can increase the risk that you are agreeing to meet someone who isn’t at all like their profile promises.The easiest way to fix this? Arrange for a video call using an anonymous number (one of a number of awesome Google Voice features) to ensure you’ve seen your match’s face and heard their voice before meeting them in public.
Safety First When Dating Online!
Of course, these are a just a few out of the many unique dating apps available.
Some dating apps lend themselves better towards a safer dating experience (like Hinge, which only allows you to match with friends of your Facebook friends). Other apps, however, can be worse for your personal safety, such as Happn, which only matches you with people you’ve been physically near over the course of your day.
Online dating is a great way to meet people and make new connections. So make sure you take the perfect online dating profile picture, open with your best line, and get ready to fall for someone new. Just be sure to stay anonymous until you know your potential match is someone you can trust.