Mozilla Waves Red Flag Over Data Hungry Dating Apps

Nearly two dozen dating apps were flagged by Mozilla’s Privacy Not Included researchers Tuesday as failing to meet privacy and security standards, sharing customer data with third parties, and excluding the right of a user to wipe their data from the app.

According to Mozilla, financial pressures are forcing the owners of the apps to change leadership, experiment with new features and subscription models, integrate AI, diversify income streams, gamify apps to make them more addictive, and siphon off more data from their users, while too often slacking on security.

Eighty percent of dating apps share or sell their customers’ data and won’t guarantee all users the right to delete their data, the researchers noted.

Dating apps tagged with Privacy Not Included cautions included Badoo, Black People Meet, BLK, Bumble, Christian Mingle, Coffee Meets Bagel, Elite Singles, Facebook Dating, Grindr, Her, Hinge, Jdate, Lovoo, Match, Muzz, OkCupid, OurTime, Plenty of Fish, Scruff, TanTan, Tinder and Zoosk.

Dating Apps Rejected by Gen Z

“The problem is the dating apps say they need to collect this personal information to help you find an ideal match, but they use that information far beyond the scope of what would help you find a partner,” said Privacy Not Included researcher and writer Zoë MacDonald.

“They share and sell that information to advertisers,” she told TechNewsWorld. “And half of them don’t meet our minimum security standards. That means the data is at risk of a breach, leak, or hack, putting it up for grabs for just about anybody.”

The Mozilla researchers maintain that dating apps are in a financial bind due to a drop in popularity. With millennials married off, Gen Z — younger, poorer, more tech-savvy, and less prone to casual sex — has become disenchanted with the apps, which has hurt the apps’ makers’ bottom line. According to the New York Times, the two biggest players in the domain — Match Group and Bumble — have lost US$40 billion in market value since 2021.

“As the first generation of digital natives, you might expect Gen Z to embrace dating apps, but the social anxiety this generation has been experiencing seems to hinder dating apps,” said Brian Prince, founder and CEO of Top AI Tools, an AI tool, resource, and educational platform in Boca Raton, Fla.

Prince cited a report from the dating app Hinge that found Gen Z is eschewing dating apps and even dating in general because of fear of rejection. “Putting themselves ‘out there’ online can be scary for a generation that has a hard time getting comfortable with being uncomfortable, so to speak,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“In general, it’s getting harder to find potential partners on dating apps, with catfishing and harassment running rampant,” he added. “Plus, apps tend to hide some of the best features behind a paywall, making it harder to make suitable connections.”

Gen Z Overwhelmed by Privacy Concerns

The pandemic might have also impacted Gen Z attitudes toward dating apps, suggested Ashley Johnson, senior policy manager at the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF), a research and public policy organization in Washington, D.C.

“They were young adults during the Covid-19 pandemic and social distancing, so they may be seeking out more in-person connections now to make up for those years,” she told TechNewsWorld.

“It’s also much easier than it used to be to connect with other people via online services other than dating apps, such as social media, so Gen Z may have less of a need for online services specifically meant for dating if they’re using more general-purpose services for all sorts of interactions, including romantic ones,” she said.

Alicia diVittorio, a data privacy expert and advocate at DataGrail, a data privacy company in San Francisco, added that research by her company shows that while Gen Z lives a large portion of their lives online, they are more sensitive to privacy concerns.

“Younger generations are more aware and feel more overwhelmed about their online privacy,” she told TechNewsWorld. “Nearly 50% of Gen Z feels overwhelmed by privacy, compared to only a third of boomers.”

“And,” she continued, “with the overturning of Roe v. Wade, younger generations are absolutely more fearful about how their data can be used.”

Collecting Too Much Geo Data

The Mozilla researchers also found that the majority of the apps studied collect users’ geolocation by default unless they opt-out. Other apps like Hinge, Tinder, OKCupid, Match, Plenty of Fish, BLK, and BlackPeopleMeet adamantly insist on accessing users’ precise geolocation data and can still collect this data whether someone is using the app or not, they added.

“A lot of these apps want access to your location 24/7 whether or not the app needs that access to function,” Mozilla’s MacDonald said. “That’s a liability because that’s really sensitive information, and any time that’s transmitted over the internet, that’s going to put that information at risk.”

Shared or stolen geolocation data could be particularly harmful to women in the wake of Roe v. Wade, maintained DataGrail’s diVittorio.

“Part of the reason California settled with Sephora back in 2022 was because they were sharing the geolocation of women, and there were some concerns that information could make its way into the hands of people watching for women seeking abortions,” she explained.

“In the Sephora case, which the company settled for $1.2 million, the state alleged that Sephora had violated the California Consumer Privacy Act by selling the personal information of customers without properly disclosing the practice or obtaining explicit consent.”

Necessary Feature or Safety Risk?

Frankly, this information can be found through countless other applications, so the threat posed here is specific to how the data is abused, asserted Ira Winkler, CISO of CYE, a cybersecurity optimization company in Tel Aviv, Israel.

“Some dating apps allow users to know exactly where other users are in their immediate vicinity,” he told TechNewsWorld. “This allows malicious parties to find a user with basic information, and then quickly search other sites to gather much more information than possible and manipulate and abuse the other users.”

“There are horror stories about users having their geolocation data misused,” acknowledged the ITIF’s Johnson. “However, geolocation data is important for dating apps. If users want to find others geographically close to them — if they are not interested in long-distance relationships and want to meet someone nearby — a dating app would need their geolocation data to match them with the right people.”

“But,” she added, “there should be safeguards in place to protect that data from unauthorized use.”

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