Dating apps users talk about sharing private data

Updated: Nov 19, 2018, 08:21 IST | Dalreen Ramos

A recent survey revealed that data sharing can increase consumer anxiety. Three young frequent users of dating apps, tell us what being part of a world where private information is freely distributed means

As we write this, an Internet post is circulating on our Facebook feed. "Make Orwell fiction again," it reads, in relation to 1984, the work of English novelist Eric Arthur Blair, popularly known by his pen name George Orwell that foreshadowed the surveillance society we live in today. It is hard to calculate our trade-offs with privacy on a daily basis.

Consider a simple example, would you rather buy something at a store at its retail price, or log into an e-commerce platform that offers you some, if not a huge discount. Or in this case, would you opt to choose the virtual dating world which allows you to meet new people at the click of a button and costs almost nothing, other than requiring you to enter a few lines of your personal information, which calls for less thinking than what you plan on typing in your bio.

Esthappan S. Pic/Sameer Abedi
Esthappan S. Pic/Sameer Abedi

Mapping consumer anxiety
A recent survey by global accounting firm KPMG revealed that data sharing could increase consumer anxiety, drawing from a sample of 25,000 consumers from eight countries including India. The study states that about "56 per cent of respondents are concerned or extremely concerned about the way companies handle and use their personal data," with 47 per cent feeling more anxious than last year. Even in the current backdrop of data scandals and privacy breaches, the report shows that millennials are more likely to trade their data than baby boomers in favour of "better customer experience
and personalisation."

A field study by researchers Mona Nandwani and Rishabh Kaushal conducted in July 2017 documents that users of online dating social networks are extremely vulnerable to disclosures of personally identifiable information. So, we wonder then, where does the youth of today draw the line between privacy and potential benefits - even if the case may be that, Big Brother is indeed watching.

Rohini Toal
Rohini Toal

Internal flaws
Grindr, a dating app geared towards gay, bisexual, transsexual, and queer people, lets users choose aliases instead of having to enter their real name. So, 28-year-old communications specialist Esthappen S decided to call himself Urban Naxal. "By putting that out, I also put forth my political ideology, and the abuse that followed was immense. It was scary knowing that somebody who doesn't know you, wants to cause you harm. The app is essentially providing information without context," the Bandra resident says. From the screenshots he shared with us, one message reads, "Military and police teri acche se g**** maaregi."

The app also displays data about body sizes where a user can choose from three options - slim, average, and muscular. "Now, if I'm somewhere in between, I have to actually identify as an 'average' person," he tells us, explaining the flawed criteria.

Meghna Kallat. Pic/Datta Kumbhar
Meghna Kallat. Pic/Datta Kumbhar

Privacy an afterthought
Rohini Toal, a 20-year-old student, has been using dating apps for the past seven months. She started the journey with Tinder, but later gravitated to Hinge, which she felt was safer in terms of privacy. "On Tinder, you can choose to link your Instagram profile, which I did. But at one point, I had like 70 Instagram requests basically saying, 'I found you on Tinder,' she says. Toal, who has been dealing with an anxiety disorder for the past five years, states that privacy is often an afterthought.

"These options are in place to see if a profile is legitimate or not. I am giving you consent to see if I'm a real person, but not for messaging me randomly. It used to leave me very anxious. On Hinge you only get to visit somebody's Instagram when you match with them," she shares. We also reached out to Tinder but didn't receive a response until the time of going to press.

An active choice
"As a woman you are subjected to so much daily, and a lot of data is already online. So, this doesn't bother me," says Meghna Kallat, 27, who has been using dating apps for two years. "I'm here out of choice. Fortunately, I haven't been subjected to unsolicited advances, and it is difficult to blame the app," she explains.

And it may rightly be so, as India doesn't even have a data protection law in place. The EU data protection law allows citizens to approach Tinder and be granted access to their personal data, as done by journalist Judith Dportail who received 800 pages of data from the organisation after her request. Clinical psychologist Amrita Joshi concurs with the fact that users don't put a lot of thought into what they are actually revealing. "We talk about this in our sessions, and then clients go back and edit a lot of data. But more than that, they're more concerned about their online presence which gives rise to anxiety."

Amrita Joshi
Amrita Joshi

Anxiety check
You may want to consult a professional if you notice the following signs:
* You're getting increasingly restless around your profile on a dating app - emotionally and physically, such as thinking about potential matches or contantly checking messages.
* In the long term, if such behaviour impacts your daily functioning, resulting in panic attacks, for instance.

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