Maintaining cyber privacy while online dating
March 18, 2019 1:03 PM   Subscribe

I've recently started online dating. The last time I did this was in 2003. The interconnectedness of the various social medias plus embedded location tracking has it feeling DRAMATICALLY different from a privacy and safety standpoint than it did my first time around, and I've already unintentionally exposed myself in a couple ways that have left me feeling a little freaked out. What should I be doing/thinking about to keep myself safe and/or not share certain details about myself before I'm ready? What am I not thinking about or may not be aware of?

For example, I texted a picture to a man I've been seeing and did not realize I had location services enabled on my phone's camera, so it had MY FUCKING ADDRESS attached to the picture. Before I started dating, I only ever texted pics to family and friends where that level of privacy just wasn't a big concern, so I'm embarrassed to say that the location data being embedded didn't cross my mind for a second until then. He let me know immediately, I've since turned it off, and I'm not actually concerned that this particular individual is going to come murder my family or whatever so I guess all's well that end's well, but hooooooly shit, that was quite the wakeup call.

LinkedIn is another one. I looked up someone else on there and was able to verify him from the search results but to click on his profile would expose my own workplace and I had to consciously remind myself not to do that.

I've got a Facebook account but have already locked it down in all the ways I can think of: I'm not searchable by my (very very very common) name, email, or phone number, no contact details or photos or friends lists viewable, etc. My Instagram is set to private and is not linked to any dating app or other social media. I don't have Twitter. I've Googled myself seven ways from Sunday and not turned up anything major due to the aforementioned numbingly common name. I do have an iPhone and am reviewing the location and security settings but worried I might be missing something.

I know all the other rules of staying safe on early dates: meet there, tell someone where I'm going, don't leave my drink unattended, and so on. This question is specifically about online safety and security. I've Googled some articles on the subject but haven't seen much that feels specifically germane to my question except using unique pictures not already tied to any social media accounts and not linking your Instagram or whatever.

Thank you!
posted by anderjen to Computers & Internet (17 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
One thing I didn't think of is that I use the same username on all services, so when I signed up to OKCupid, I used it by habit. So then if you googled me, you got EVERYWHERE I was online. That wasn't something I realized at first, and once I did, I changed my username in a hurry! That's a lot of info to provide to someone you don't really know, even if it's just a blog or your Twitter and not your actual address.
posted by possibilityleft at 1:10 PM on March 18, 2019 [5 favorites]

Use photos for your dating profile that you've never used anywhere else so reverse image searches will not turn up your other social media profiles.
posted by Apoch at 1:15 PM on March 18, 2019 [26 favorites]

I use a different name on online dating sites, one that is close enough to my real name but that I do not use online or anywhere in my real life (like if my name were Jasmine, I'd go by Jay). I also am a bit vague when people ask me questions about where I work, or what specifically I do there. Even if your name is common, deductive disclosure makes it possible for people to tie together various things you've said and with enough creative googling and your name, you are findable. So I think adding a layer of obfuscation here is good.

Hinge was sharing the last names of people when I matched with them, so I deleted my data from that app immediately. I couldn't figure out if they were sharing mine, but that was upsetting.

I use a burner phone - the Burner app works well for this - for all communications until I am exclusive with someone. I'm always worried someone could reverse search my phone number and find me that way. Burner charges a small subscription fee per month but it is so worth it to me!

Finally, it seems a bit weird to me that this guy you texted checked the EXIF data on your photo and told you that he knew your address from it? This is good information to know about photos in general, but it's... strange to me that he looked.
posted by sockermom at 1:19 PM on March 18, 2019 [5 favorites]

I know you're real proud of that half marathon you ran but if you post a picture on your dating profile with your bib number showing I can find out everything else about you.
posted by phunniemee at 1:32 PM on March 18, 2019 [14 favorites]

Create a brand new facebook account to link to these services; don't use your old one even if it's incredibly locked down. Otherwise you'll end up in their "People You May Know" list on both Linked In and Facebook. Consider using a brand new google voice number or a burner phone for texting for the same reasons.
posted by mcgsa at 1:38 PM on March 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

This 2016 blog post by Lesley Carhart offers some ideas: The Top 9 Ways I Found Your ‘Secret’ Dating Profile (via Superpunch)
The very simplest, a Google search will often turn up social media profiles, forum posts, and blog comments tied to a particular username. If you’re concerned about dating site matches finding your online presence, or people online finding your dating profile, just don’t reuse usernames or email addresses! [...]

A few years ago, image recognition on a large scale was restricted to law enforcement and corporate security. This isn’t true anymore. [...] There are two sets of clues that can give away important personal information in your photos. The first are old-fashioned visual clues. Consider: is there a window in your photos, and are there identifiable buildings or landmarks outside of it? Were your photos taken in an apartment building or dorm that can be easily identified in other people’s photos? [...]

The second way your photos can betray your privacy is a bit more technical, but still terribly important to recognize. It has to do with hidden information, or ‘metadata’, which is tacked onto most pictures by phones, photo editing software, and digital cameras. You can’t see EXIF metadata without using special tools, but it may contain startling amounts of information about where the photo was taken, by whom, and when. This exists primarily to help out professional photographers and photo storage tools. [...] Ensure you remove identifying metadata from photos before posting them onto your dating profile. [...]

This is open source intelligence 101. The individual facts and conversations you post on dating sites might not give away your identity, but as a collective whole, they may. Give some consideration to how much information you’re giving other users over time and as a whole. Did you post that you live in Milwaukee, tell a user that you live in an apartment with a pool, and tell another that you live next to an airport? These pieces of information put together say a lot more about your location than they do individually. [...]

I highly recommend using an entirely new and separate email account to sign up for a private dating profile. [...]

No matter who you are, which gender you are, what you do for a living, or how much money you make, you can be a target for fraud or social engineering. Somebody who wants to manipulate or identify you on a dating site may attempt to gain your trust before drawing you into a trap. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Be very cognizant of members leading you into revealing unusual personal details, compromising photos, or financial information.
There is also a 2018 post: The Biggest “Small” Personal Digital Security Mistakes "to remind folks of some of a few small security things that slip through the cracks in our daily lives that can cause a profound impact on our personal digital lives."
posted by Little Dawn at 1:44 PM on March 18, 2019 [19 favorites]

I think you're doing every reasonable thing you can. Be aware of your security settings, and keep personal details vague until you're comfortable sharing them. Use a profile name or a fake-ish name if you can (fake-ish meaning related to your real name but not one you use in real life). Hide your line of work until later. A google search of 'Name + Job + City' brings up a LinkedIn profile in no time, and with it, ERRRRYTHING about you. Throwaway emails and second facebook profiles are very good ideas.

There's a risk to online dating, obviously, and as long as you take reasonable precautions (as you're doing), you should be OK. Most people doing online dating are aware of the Real Life boundary and respect it, lest their own boundary gets broken. It's an unwritten rule. Of course, not everyone abides by that, but on the whole, it seems to be there.

Above all, trust your gut. If somebody seems wrong, they are, and you need to get rid of them immediately. "Block and Move On" is your friend.

Good luck.
posted by Capt. Renault at 1:56 PM on March 18, 2019

it seems a bit weird to me that this guy you texted checked the EXIF data on your photo

When I was single, I checked the data to see if the photos were recent and thus reflective of what the person actually looked like.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 2:38 PM on March 18, 2019 [5 favorites]

Try googling your own email address and phone number to see what hits you get. You may have had your email buried in a profile for something totally innocuous that may have been under your real name, which someone could use to track you down.

(Case in point: I submitted a fanfic to a DOCTOR WHO online archive, and when the profile asked for my "real name" I actually used it, and was unaware it would be visible to people. Two years later some dude in Long Island saw my online profile mentioned Doctor Who, and googled "Doctor Who Brooklyn" and got that profile - and used that to get my phone number, to then call me to ask me out.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:42 PM on March 18, 2019 [3 favorites]

What specifically are you concerned about? I’m not being facetious. Are you concerned about people you don’t know and don’t match with? People you match with bit don’t meet? People you’ve already met? And what’s the concern? Maybe walking through some specific scenarios would be helpful.

People are suggesting getting a burner phone. Much simpler is to message via the app until you’ve met and want to give them your phone number. That’s a reasonable boundary and most folks wouldn’t object to that.

You can be vague about your profession and if you have uncommon hobbies.
posted by bluedaisy at 4:27 PM on March 18, 2019

I thought this podcast from F-Secure on this very topic was useful and interesting:
Online Dating and Trading Data for Love (It’s Complicated)
posted by gemmy at 4:40 PM on March 18, 2019

> be vague about your profession and if you have uncommon hobbies

Seconding. With either of those and even a common first name with an approximate location, a determined searcher willing to comb through 10 pages of results or add "-" to words in the common false positives may be able to surface your info.
posted by ASCII Costanza head at 6:30 PM on March 18, 2019

FWIW, on LinkedIn, you can change your privacy settings so that your name/info isn’t visible to the people whose profiles you view. God knows, given how sketchy that whole enterprise is, if that’s actually trustworthy or if people with paid accounts have the “perk” of seeing that info whatever your settings, but it’s something.
posted by invitapriore at 6:31 PM on March 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

Sometimes you just have to roll with it, the way if you met someone at a bar, they could get your license plate number. I'm OK with a certain amount of exposure, and also I am an A+ Number One Investigative Stalker who WILL trust that little voice inside of me and find out your real name and also the Facebook profile picture of you with your wife taken last week ... the wife you told me had tragically died of cancer two years ago. (And I met that asshole in a coffee shop, not even through an app.)
posted by 2soxy4mypuppet at 7:08 PM on March 18, 2019 [4 favorites]

Like bluedaisy said, messaging through the app reduces the number of ways they can track you. I never give out other contact info before I meet someone and decide I can trust them.

Tinder used to show mutual friends, which very often allowed me to find someone's profile. They seem to have stopped doing that, but you can't assume they won't again.

Tinder also defaults to showing workplace and school, but I assume you've fixed that.

I tell people I live in the closest city rather than my small town. I'm honest about where I work because it's hard to track me down that way, but if it wasn't, I'd keep it vague.

A number of dudes whom I swipe left on Tinder proceed to track me down on OkCupid and message me there. So be aware of that possibility, if you provide additional information on each site. (Note to dudes: this comes off as super creepy.)
posted by metasarah at 7:58 PM on March 18, 2019

What specifically are you concerned about?

Well, like I said in my question, my main concern is unintentionally exposing information that lets people discover my location, workplace, full name, etc. before I'm ready to do so myself. The marathon bib is a great example of the exact kind of innocent yet inadvertent breach that wouldn't have occurred to me. I know I can't stop a truly determined internet investigator but I don't have to be such an easy if involuntarily accessory.

And yep, I realize now that even as vague as I was about my profession, it's still enough information that Googling my name + city + all-purpose job title returns my LinkedIn as the very first result. So I still have some work to do.

To add to some of the stories in this thread, I'll share one from a good friend: when she was on an early date with her now-husband, she asked about his job and he made a big deal about (prudently) not wanting to say where he worked...all while sitting there wearing a shirt with the company name proudly emblazoned on it.
posted by anderjen at 7:19 AM on March 19, 2019 [3 favorites]

Finally, it seems a bit weird to me that this guy you texted checked the EXIF data on your photo and told you that he knew your address from it? This is good information to know about photos in general, but it's... strange to me that he looked.

To respond to this, I don't think he even had to dig for it. Simply save a picture to your phone's camera roll and the attached location right down to the exact address (if available) is prominently displayed. I checked against a few photos sent to me by friends and family and found this to be the case in each one.
posted by anderjen at 11:40 AM on March 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

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