Protect yourself and your data when using LGBT dating sites

Table of Contents

...Loading Table of Contents...

    For LGBT individuals, particularly in repressive political or social environments, it is quite common to turn to the internet as a means of communicating with, and meeting other people like you. This is quite natural, especially since the internet connects us to such a vast and diverse global community, and also gives us a certain feeling of anonymity. LGBT dating sites are also particularly useful in this respect.

    However, while these sites represent a wonderful resource for meeting people and expressing ourselves where we otherwise can't or may not want to, they are not necessarily the safe, anonymous spaces we want them to be and, unless we are careful, our interaction with them could facilitate an undesired 'outing', or much worse. In some countries, personal disagreements have led to some LGBT people having their dating site profiles being printed out and posted to their families. In others, like Egypt, LGBT individuals have been preyed upon by authorities who have subjected them to entrapment through creating fake profiles and lying to them.

    Therefore, while these sites may be a good – or indeed the only – way of meeting new people, it's a good idea to keep the following information, tips, and tools in mind in order to stay safe.

    • Some of the technical vulnerabilities of common dating sites that may put you at risk, and useful strategies for overcoming them
    • How to safeguard information about yourself and others when using LGBT dating sites

    What you can learn from this guide

    • Some of the technical vulnerabilities of common dating sites that may put you at risk, and useful strategies for overcoming them
    • How to safeguard information about yourself and others when using LGBT dating sites

    Keeping your private bits private

    Browsing history and cookies

    It's a good idea to minimize evidence of your use of LGBT dating sites on your computer, should anyone else inadvertently discover it through using, stealing or finding your computer.

    The first and most basic step is to simply delete your browsing history after each use, or disable browsing history altogether.

    Many websites, particularly social networking sites, store small files called cookies on your computer, which collect information about your interaction with that website and others, so that they can provide you with advertisements relevant to your interests. Therefore, if you are logged into an account such as Facebook or Google while also logged into your dating site profile (even in a different tab), these sites may collect this information about you and use it to serve you advertisements, or even hand it over to third parties. It's a good idea to disable cookies on your browser any time you log into a dating site, to avoid linking your use of this site to any of your other online profiles or activities.

    If you'd like to securely delete your browsing history, cookies and other temporary internet files, there are a number of easy-to-use Free and Open-Source Software (FOSS) tools which can help you with this. In particular, we recommend CCleaner and Eraser.

    Finally, be aware that dating sites, like many social networks, are fertile ground for hackers who wish to spread malware. They usually attempt this by creating a fake profile and sending messages, which encourage viewers and recipients to click on a link to “their website” or “their videos”. However, you can protect yourself from this threat by observing a very simple principle: if you do not know the sender, simply do not click on any hyperlink they send you, especially if their profile or messages appear suspicious.

    For more on these topics, see How to protect your computer from malware and hackers; How to protect your information from physical threats, and our guide How to protect yourself and your data when using social networking sites

    Hands-on: get started with Metanull image metadata removal for Windows

    SSL connection

    It's very important to choose a dating site that provides a Secure Socket Layer connection (SSL), also known as https. This means that, although someone monitoring your internet traffic will still be able to tell that you are visiting the site, all the communication between your computer and the website's servers will be encrypted. While most sites provide an SSL connection on their login page, they may not provide it for the rest of your interaction with the site – meaning that any profile updates, messages, and pictures you send or receive will be as visible to observers, such as your ISP, as postcards are to a postman. In order to check whether your dating site provides SSL, log in and then check if the address in the browser's address bar begins with “https://”. Keep in mind that some sites, such as PlanetRomeo, give you a “secure connection” option on the login page; if you see this, make sure the box is ticked before entering your details. If your site does not provide SSL, we suggest you delete your profile and switch to a site which does. For more information, see our guide How to keep your internet communication private. If you feel you must continue using a site which doesn't provide SSL, it's imperative that you connect using a circumvtion and anonymity tool such as Tor or a VPN(see below).

    Circumvention and Anonymous browsing

    As noted above, while an SSL connection will protect the content you send to, or receive from, the dating site's servers, it does not make you anonymous. Your computer's IP address, and the IP address of the website's servers will still be visible to your ISP, the website's administrators, and possibly others. However, there are solutions to this problem. If anonymity is important to you, there are simple steps you can take to communicate anonymously with the website, such as using the Tor Browser or a Virtual Private Network (VPN) connection.

    These tools are circumvention tools, which also means that they can be used to access content which would otherwise be censored. For more information on circumvention and anonymity, see our guide How to remain anonymous and bypass censorship on the internet.

    Hands-on: get started with Firefox and Security Add-Ons for Windows - Secure Web Browser

    Mobile apps

    Mobile computing devices such as smartphones and tablets have become extremely popular means of communication, combining mobile telephony with instant access to much of our favourite internet content and social networking applications all in one place.

    LGBT sites have been quick to adapt to this change, and most major dating sites such as PlanetRomeo, Gaydar, and Scruff now boast their own applications. Moreover, some apps, such as Grindr, are designed especially to take advantage of smartphone and tablet features, such as GPS, in order to broadcast your location to possible partners near you.

    Aside from the obvious possible dangers of broadcasting your location and identity as an LGBT individual to other people near you, there are a number of other disadvantages to the smartphone and tablet format, including:

    • Many of these apps do not provide an SSL connection, even if their websites do;
    • Downloading the apps from the Appstore or Google Play will link them directly to your Apple ID or Google account;
    • Your mobile operator will also collect this information, linking it directly to your identity;
    • Other social networking apps installed on your mobile device such as Facebook or Twitter may also collect this information about you

    Therefore, we recommend that if your privacy as an LGBT individual is important to you, you do not use mobile apps designed for dating. You can read more about smartphones and tablets in our guide How to use smartphones as securely as possible.

    You and Dating Sites

    Your identity and financial information

    Unfortunately, dating sites are not usually run as non-profit organisations. Rather, they are businesses which aim to profit, and tend to do this in two ways: firstly, though offering a “premium” version of the site, with added features, for an extra fee, and secondly, through collecting as much information as possible about all users in order to pass on to third parties, usually advertisers.

    As a result, these websites are often quite keen for you to volunteer as much information about yourself to them as possible. Some sites, like Manjam, even ask for your full name in order to create a profile, and any site which offers a “premium” service will also ask for your credit card details. Naturally, your name and financial details are highly sensitive and will directly link your identity to your activities on the website. Depending on the legal situation in your country, this evidence of using LGBT dating sites could be used against you. Moreover, many dating sites state in their privacy policies that they will hand over your personal information to third parties, including authorities, if there is a legal request made for them to do so. You should only volunteer real information about yourself which you consider strictly necessary, and never provide your full name, telephone number, or credit card details to a dating site.

    Read more in How to protect yourself and your data while using social networking sites.

    About exchanging pictures

    Before you meet someone, it's a good idea to ask for various pictures of them, which will give you a better idea of how genuine they are. If someone outright refuses to exchange pictures with you before meeting, this is cause for suspicion and best avoided, unless you can verify that they are genuine by other means (such as through your community – see below).

    If someone sends you a picture which you think might be fake or taken from a website, you can drag the image into the google image searchbar to find out whether it has been taken from a website. You might also want to read the metadata of the picture. For more, see the chapter on How to remove hidden metadata from files

    Regarding your own pictures, while someone might reasonably expect to see you before meeting to ensure that you are genuine, it's a good security practice to at least keep your pictures private until someone asks for them, and only send them in exchange for others. It might also be advisable to strip the metadata from the images before sending them, so as to keep secret information such as the location in which it was taken, the time, the camera make, etc.

    Hands-on: get started with Metanull image metadata removal for Windows

    Establishing contact and meeting

    Before you agree to meet someone, you should establish contact over the phone with them first. Rather than use your house phone or mobile phone, it might be best to use a Voice over IP program such as jitsi or skype, or arrange to talk over public telephones.

    Finally, before meeting someone, it is best to check among your other LGBT contacts and community, if you have one, whether anyone knows or has heard of him or her, as they may be able to alert you as to whether or not the person is trustable.

    Too good to be true?

    If you come across, or are contacted by someone who seems suspiciously 'perfect', or you notice inconsistencies in the information they give you about themselves you should be cautious. Are their high quality pictures a little too professional-looking? Should they be sharing their face-pics in your city, region or country? Do they sound a little too eager to meet or see a picture of your face, or are they unwilling to exchange pictures? If you have doubts, it's best to steer clear, and check with your friends and contacts whether anyone knows of this person.

    General tips and advice for particular sites

    As with any social networking site, and especially given the threats facing LGBTI people, it's a good idea to ask the following questions before using an LGBTI dating site.

    • Who can access the information I am putting online?
    • Who controls and owns the information I put into a social networking site?
    • What information about me are my contacts passing on to other people?
    • Will my contacts mind if I share information about them with other people?
    • Do I trust everyone with whom I'm connected?
    • Does the service provide users with an SSL (or HTTPS) connection?
    • In which country is the company who manages the service registered and where are the servers geographically (into which jurisdiction to they fall)?

    Advice for particular sites

    Manjam

    In order to create a profile on Manjam, your personal information including your first and last names are requested. According to their privacy policy, this information will be collected and may be shared with third parties, including in case of a legal request. You should avoid sharing this information when creating a profile at all costs: there is no good reason to give your real name, so give a fake one.

    Manjam has a useful guide to safe practices when using their site here

    Gaydar and GaydarGirls

    If you use Gaydar or GaydarGirls, make sure the box next to “secure session” is ticked when you log in, to ensure your session will use SSL. You can make sure that this is always the case by using the HTTPS Everywhere add-on for Firefox.

    PlanetRomeo

    If you use PlanetRomeo, also ensure that the box next to “secure login” is ticked when you log in, to ensure your session will use SSL. You can make sure that this is always the case by using the HTTPS Everywhere add-on for Firefox.

    Planetromeo has a useful guide to safe practices when using their site, under "Help and Services".

    Grindr

    As noted above, Grindr is a smartphone application. If your privacy and security is important to you, it is strongly recommended that you do not use Grindr.

    Further reading