Before Comparing Dating Profiles, Determine which Platform has Privacy Characteristics that Suit Your Needs

With Valentine’s Day looming on the horizon, it’s an ideal time to have a look at how popular dating sites and apps fare up in terms of privacy. In order to prepare this post, I reviewed the privacy policies of Match.com, OkCupid, JDate and Tinder – you’re welcome ; )

An interesting fact I came across was that several popular dating sites are part of a family of businesses that share information. For instance, Match.com and OkCupid are both part of the IAC group of companies (which also includes non-dating sites such as Ask.com, College Humor and About.com). Similarly, JDate, ChristianMingle and BlackSingles.com are all part of Spark Networks. Both IAC and Spark Networks share personal information about their users that is collected from a particular member site with other entities in the same family. But that’s just the beginning…

Match.com and OkCupid (which incidentally have the same privacy policy) state that they use personal information collected from users “to register [them] with and display [their] profile on other online dating and other social websites owned by IAC”. The policies further state that “[a]s part of our online service, your profile may be registered on and/or appear in search results or other areas of other online dating websites owned by IAC.” This disclosure is somewhat unclear, however it doesn’t seem to suggest that the use of profile information from one site on additional sites only occurs to the extent that a user chooses to register with such additional sites.

Third-party platforms offer an additional source of information. For example, if a user accesses Match.com, OkCupid or Tinder through Facebook, information from the user’s Facebook profile and from cookies placed on the user’s device by Facebook may be captured. While registering through Facebook is presented as merely an option on some dating sites, those who wish to swipe right for Tinder have no choice but to register using their Facebook account. The implication of this is profound – users have no option to keep their Facebook information separate from their Tinder account.

So, what does Tinder do with Facebook information? Tinder’s privacy policy states that “other users will be able to view information you have provided to us directly or through Facebook, such as your Facebook photos, any additional photos you upload, your first name, your age, approximate number of miles away, your personal description, and information you have in common with the person viewing your profile, such as common Facebook friends and likes.”

In what other contexts is information shared? Besides the typical law enforcement and service provider disclosures, in some cases, personal information collected by online dating platforms may also be sold or transferred to third parties. For instance, JDate’s privacy policy states that “should Spark Networks file for protection, or have a third party petition filed against it under the bankruptcy code, any assets of the company, including member personal and non-personal information may be sold or transferred, in whole or part to a new entity.” The policy doesn’t seem to impose restrictions on how such information may be used when transferred in this context.

What about communication practices? Does the platform require users to give their express consent to receiving communications through an opt-in model, or does it presume communications are desired? Each of the four platforms that I reviewed adopts an opt-out model, meaning that the provider will send communications to a user until such time that the user indicates a desire to stop receiving messages.

For the millions of users of dating sites and apps, it’s important to keep in mind that there are privacy costs to consider when setting up a profile. Just as selecting the right partner is an important choice to be made, so is determining if online dating is right for you, and if so which platform offers the privacy characteristics that you are looking for. Happy searching…