It’s Valentine’s Day, a time to celebrate loved ones, ice cream, and the profiles you can swipe right on to perhaps find companionship. But as a recent Forbes article points out, people seeking love in our modern age have unknowingly given a ton of personal information away, often to strangers who — despite their cute dog and fellow desire to “have fun” — you will never meet in real life. This information does not necessarily include how you love brunch or your favorite television show, but photos of oneself, educational history, place of business – and on some apps, current location.

In the security industry, we refer to this practice as open-source intelligence (OSINT), or the gathering of data from publicly available sources. With more and more people content to share hugely personal information on public social media forums, OSINT has become an ever-larger contributor to my role as a senior analyst on Hillard Heintze’s Threat + Violence Risk Management team.

In my day-to-day life, I try and practice what we preach to clients and maintain a personal level of security that might look slightly paranoid to outsiders but is the result of seeing how a person with determination and the internet can uncover so much about you.

What has surprised me lately, despite general media warnings and efforts to curb data misuse by assorted companies, is the lack of personal security used by other users on dating apps. While premium versions of apps like Tinder, Bumble, Hinge and Grindr often offer advanced privacy settings, for those with the
“freemium” versions, there are precautionary measures you can take to limit what is out there while still portraying your best self to the online dating world.

Get creative

Think about what you provide when signing up and how it may be used to find you. If you must create a handle for the dating platform, make a new one that you don’t use for anything else. When providing details to build your profile, try and limit personal identifiers. Your last name, university attended, employer or any other type of unique-to-you information are all seemingly benign details you would want to share with someone. But save them for later! They don’t have to be included in your profiles at the onset for everyone on the service to view.

Do not link your personal social media accounts

As tempting as it is to see what friends or interests you might have in common with someone, you’re likely giving away more information than what you toggle on/off in permission settings when you allow a dating app to access one or more of your social media profiles. Who knows what company is selling your data and to whom these days? Better safe than sorry.

Be cautious of the photos and captions you share

Many dating apps have built-in options to set a distance radius to find a match. It might seem a little excessive to worry about what you’re giving away in a photograph, caption or prompt response, but individuals with obsessive tendencies or malintent could use your information to target you.

As an example, if an image on your dating profile shows you outside of your local ice cream parlor, the caption states, “at my favorite place,” and a match sees your distance radius set within a mile, a person could easily figure out what neighborhood you live in or where you might be the next sunny day. Maybe you’re the type of person who would enjoy an unsuspecting encounter with a stranger from an online app, but for safety reasons, it’s best to be cognizant about what your photos and captions share with the world.

There are many ways that your dating profile could be used against you, and there are recommendations to protect your privacy across all types of platforms (not just dating ones). But as the author of the Forbes article wrote, “Dating sites are not bad. They are a means for people to connect, meet and find love.” For all the single people out there reading this, or those with friends and loved ones on dating apps, remember to exercise caution with strangers online as you do in the real world.