Can security software on dating apps protect you from abuse?

Apr 22, 2018, 07:03 IST | Aastha Atray Banan

That dating apps are far from unsafe, we all know. But can amping up security make the experience less unpleasant?

Illustration/Uday MohiteIllustration/Uday Mohite

I think giving sex too much importance is so unnecessary, but that's what these online dating sites pay most attention to," says Pooja (name changed). The 33-year-old media professional is still reeling from a three-year relationship that went sour with a man she met on Tinder. Her anger and disbelief at what happened is palpable when we speak with her. Her story is a horrifying one. Pooja met the man on Tinder in 2015.

He was a good looking sales and marketing executive, who invited Pooja home the first time they met. On the first date, they got physically intimate, and three months later, they were engaged. That's when the horror started. "He just stopped being nice. He would thrash me, be abusive [he stuck my head in a commode once and flushed].

He also quit multiple jobs. I was stupid, I stuck around because I thought I could change him, take him for counselling, but I was depressed." It all came to a head when she saw him flirting with a girl at a club, and in a rare act of courage, slapped him. "He kicked me in the club and even, on the road." Pooja filed a complaint, took him to court, but that's when he did another turnaround.

"He started saying all the things I had longed to hear. I took the complaint back. A few hours later, he blocked me," she says, adding, "This is not an isolated story. The problem is that there are many men like this, cheating us, abusing us. I am just focusing on healing myself. But if and when I go back to dating, I know the red flags to watch out for."

Abuse is rampant
When we got in touch with Tinder and asked them about their safety practices, a spokesperson said, "We take the safety and security of our users very seriously and have a zero-tolerance policy for those, who harass or disrespect other members of our Tinder community. If users experience any kind of inappropriate conduct, we encourage them to immediately report the behaviour to us, so that we can take appropriate action against these bad actors, which includes swiftly removing them from our platform. We continuously advise our community of millions of users to be cautious, report any suspicious activity and pay attention to our safety recommendations." As of today, Pooja's abuser is still on Tinder.

Stories like these are aplenty, and it would seem that most dating apps and sites are more than happy to shirk all responsibility.
Members who are lying about their identity, job, marital status, being sexually and mentally abusive, are all problems dating app users are exposed to when they sign on. For instance, a 23-year-old PR executive we spoke with, who registered complaints on a dating app twice after she was sexually abused by her dates, said she got no response from the site, even if just to check up on her. "They all think that since we are on the app, it's accepted behaviour. One man tried to kiss me repeatedly, and one man kept forcing himself on me in an auto. They are both still on the app."

Adding a layer of security
The question to be asked is whether it's the onus of the app or site to look into these issues? Recently, UK-based company Yoti tied up with dating app, TrulyMadly, to add an extra layer of security. Yoti, whose main aim is to verify the user's identity, works like this: When you log on, you will be asked to use Yoti, which means either you verify yourself through biometrics or by uploading a government ID card. The app then rewards you with points, which will work in getting better matches on the app.

"No app is going to tell you about bad experiences on their platform. But after joining hands with TrulyMadly, we have been receiving more enquiries, as apps realise they need to improve their security measures, so that users don't lose faith in them," says Madhu Nori, international commercial director, Yoti. When we spoke to Sachin Bhatia, co-founder, TrulyMadly, he said the step was taken to ensure that the "members knew that they are being matched to other real and verified members and not bots or people with fake profiles." One of Yoti's biggest supporters is Briton Anna Rowe, 44, who is currently at the forefront of calling for a change in the law in the UK against men or women misrepresenting themselves online.

Rowe, a teaching assistant, was fooled by a man she met on a dating app, who put up a picture of actor Saif Ali Khan as his profile picture. "I didn't know who Khan was, so I didn't react. When I met him, he looked older, but he did look similar to him, so I was fine with that. It's not uncommon for people to put younger pictures," Rowe told us over phone. For over one-and-a-half years, the man was in an emotional and physical relationship with Rowe, and made her buy him multiple gifts. "He didn't ask for money, as that would have been criminal. I could have filed a case against him for that. He was smart that way."

The man also turned out to be married with children. Rowe, who now runs a website called Catch the Catfish feels that dating apps and websites need to take responsibility, and make the experience as safe as they can. "After I came out and told my story, other women spoke of being duped as well. Why are such men still on the app?" She is now waiting for the law to take its course, but has a tip to offer, "First, verify the profile picture through a image search engine. And then, take it from there."

Also read: How dating apps are affecting the institution of love

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