Kaspersky Research on Dating Apps in 2021: Technically Safer

Published July 9, 2021, 9:17 AM

by Robert D. Reyes

Technology has become permanently part of our daily lives, and this includes dating and finding love especially during this time of a pandemic and lockdowns — making digital connections the only type possible. At the recently concluded Mobile World Congress Barcelona 2021, Kaspersky shared an in-depth study that they conducted on nine (09) popular dating apps to assess how safe they were.

Kaspersky on Dating Apps

According to Kaspersky, dating apps have become safer from a technical standpoint, particularly when it comes to the transfer of data when compared to their previous research in 2017. However, these apps still pose a significant risk when it comes to exposing too much personal information about users — leaving the former vulnerable to threats like cyberstalking and doxing.

“It’s always challenging to find a balance between building a digital presence and maintaining your privacy online, and the shift to online dating creates yet another area where users have to determine the best way for them to forge connections while protecting their security. Thankfully, what we’ve seen over the past few years is that dating apps are moving in the right direction, letting users connect more safely. They’re working to keep the data secure, and, in the paid versions of many of the apps, users can do things like manually specify their location or blur their photos. Hopefully, in the future, these options will be available in all apps for free. The best thing users can do to stay safe is to be careful about the data they’re sharing about themselves, both on their dating profiles and in conversations,” according to Tatyana Shishkova, Senior Malware Analyst at Kaspersky.

For their research, Kaspersky analyzed nine popular and highly rated dating apps with global user bases: Tinder, Bumble, OkCupid, Mamba, Pure, Feeld, Her, Happn, and Badoo. What they found was that, when compared to 2017, while dating apps have become safer from a technical standpoint, major privacy risks remain.

Tinder reached a record 3 billion swipes in a single day in March 2020, while OkCupid experienced a massive 700% increase in dates from March to May also in 2020. Amidst this growing popularity, Kaspersky decided to replicate its research from 2017 into the dating app landscape to see what’s improved and what hasn’t in terms of their security.

In 2017, four of the apps studied made it possible to intercept data sent from the app, and many used the unencrypted HTTP protocol. However, in 2021, the situation has significantly improved. None of the apps studied use HTTP, and no data is sent if the protocol is not secure.

That said, significant privacy concerns remain with dating apps. Most dating apps allow users to register their account with one of their social networking sites (Instagram, Facebook, Spotify, etc.). If the user chooses to do this, then their profile is automatically populated with information from that social networking site, such as photos and profile information. Users are also invited to share information such as their place of work or university.

In addition, apps like Happn, Her, Bumble, and Tinder make it obligatory for users to share their location. Some apps, like Mamba, share the distance of users to the nearest meter. Happn has additional functionality that lets users see how many times and in what locations their matches have crossed paths with them.

Access to data such as users’ location, place of work, name, contact information, etc., leaves them vulnerable to cyberstalking or even physical stalking, as well as doxing (whereby previously private information is made public to shame or harm the victim).

Mamba is the only application that lets users blur their photos for free, and Pure is the only one that prohibits users from taking screenshots of chats. This makes it possible for users to have their chats and photos shared without their permission, potentially for blackmail purposes or doxing.

However, many apps have been adding paid versions, and these include additional choices — often choices that can enhance users’ security.

When it comes to the future of dating apps, Kaspersky has several predictions particularly when it comes to their security, such as the use of AI to protect users from fraud and the creation of verified accounts through their Earth 2050 project.