This is a guest article by Faith MacAnas, an online safety expert and blogger for Secure Thoughts.
Online dating sites can be one of the best places for singles to meet new people in their area, and finding long-term partners through online dating is certainly not uncommon. However, the process can be risky in a variety of ways, and not everyone has a good experience.
Concerns over the level of privacy on online dating websites often hold some people back and can cause them to avoid them completely. There are unfortunately scammers and hackers lurking online, and many companies fail to verify the identity of those who sign up for accounts on their sites.
Overall, it is the responsibility of the dating website to inform their visitors of the potential risks involved with online dating, and improving security should be their top priority. This leads us to the main questions to be answered below:
- What are the costs of doing nothing?
- What is already being done?
- What can you do today to improve security for both users and your company?
As with any business, the first question to answer is what happens when you do nothing at all.
What are the legal ramifications of doing nothing?
All businesses, big and small, have to consider the risks and rewards both of action and inaction. As you no doubt already realise, making online dating more secure comes with certain costs and restrictions that need to be weighed against the risks of not implementing safer policies.
Increasingly, a major issue driving improvements behind privacy in the online dating world is actually legal action. Customers who are or perceive that they are victims of invasions on their privacy – be it from data breaches or just lax privacy policies – can attempt to hold your company liable for real damages for a privacy violation.
Whether or not the suit gets dismissed all depends on the lower court, because decisions by the Supreme Court in May 2016 actually left things open. The short of this is that your company could easily be held financially responsible for breaches of customer privacy. It’s a risk you’ll want to consider as you review how open or closed your business is with client information.
Potential missed opportunities
Putting aside legal ramifications, the online dating scene also runs the risk of losing access to a major piece of the market simply because users who are uncertain of their privacy online tend not to create accounts at all.
Exactly how many users avoid creating accounts? According to the National Telecommunications & Information Administration’s 2016 survey, 45% of survey respondents completely avoided engaging in social media interactions or buying goods online as a result of privacy concerns.
While the survey’s reach is broad, the implication is clear: privacy concerns cut into the potential market for online dating by a very significant margin.
How to take a stand?
Considering the risks, you’d be right to assume that other companies are already following suit. The travel dating website TravelHostDate.com has taken a stand against catfishing and fake users by requiring proof of identity to establish an account.
They’ve taken creative measures by requiring users to not only provide photos of themselves but to provide recent photos taken with a handwritten sign with the company’s name in it. Doing so verifies that the user is who they claim to be, by providing recent evidence of their persona.
At least in theory – dedicated criminals can still no doubt utilise fake IDs and even pay someone else to take a photo holding the required sign. But while the system isn’t perfect, it goes above and beyond simply accepting any and all new users.
Another company taking steps towards greater privacy is XOXY.com. Their use of periodic background checks ensures that members aren’t criminals, and they even offer STD tests in cooperation with Quest Diagnostics, a well-known lab group.
As in the above example, online dating sites will need to be creative to stave off concerns about privacy while maintaining a significant user base. One of the more simple ways to improve privacy is to educate customers.
Normally, customer education is costly and time-consuming, but that isn’t necessarily the case online. Once you’ve created a tutorial, it’s there forever – there’s no need to pay someone to deliver it each time.
Maintaining client records out of the reach of hackers is another goal you should strive for. That may mean keeping information on a separate database that is not only physically apart from the company page, but only accessible to employees with the need for access.
Another key is promoting vigilance, both for employees and users. Reporting suspicious accounts and activity can cut down on criminal activity and eventual privacy breaches. Stolen accounts are a favourite tool of cybercriminals, particularly accounts with associated payment information.
Screening for unusual IP logins can help ascertain criminal activity, and implementing two-factor authentication is another good method for preventing account theft.
A cursory review of inactive accounts – those that haven’t been used for months – can cut down both on ineffective searches by users and may help maintain the privacy of ex-members no longer wanting attention.
Just be sure to notify the affected party before totally deactivating their account, as it might regain their interest.
What does the future hold?
While we can’t know what tomorrow holds for sure, we can make reasonable assumptions based on today’s data. This data points to privacy concerns across the board, both by current customers that consider lawsuits in the event of data breaches, and by customers that refuse to create accounts at all because they don’t trust websites to safely and discretely retain their information.
If there’s one example we should all learn from, it’s Ashley Madison. Their unscrupulous handling of customer information ultimately led to a serious hack that will not soon be forgotten. Should you hope to avoid a similar situation or even the appearance of impropriety, we strongly recommend reviewing your privacy policies and digital security.
How will your company deal with privacy concerns? Tell us your plans in the comments section.
By Faith MacAnas
Faith is an online safety expert and blogger. She writes for Secure Thoughts, an online security website that’s focused on privacy, internet freedom and online responsibility.