Users of online dating apps could be exposed to increased risks of digital sexual abuse such as "catfishing" due to the inadequate security measures of the platforms, a cyber expert has warned.
The comment comes after the federal Labor government notified major dating apps to create a voluntary code of conduct to protect users from predators and criminals.Failing this, the government has pledged to impose its own code of conduct by mid-2024.
The push is in response to a surge of abuse and sexual violence among people using online dating platforms. According to a study in 2022, nearly three in four dating app users experienced sexual violence in the past five years, with sexual harassment being the most common form of abuse.
Dr. Philip Bos, a customer identity theft protection and security specialist, supported the government’s crackdown on the safety of dating apps, saying it could bring “significant security benefits for users.”
“An industry-wide code of practice is crucial to ensure the highest level of safety for Australians,” he said in an email to The Epoch Times.
Mr. Bos added that rigorous identification will be essential to ensure users can prove who they are.
He noted that popular platforms such as Tinder, Bumble, and Hinge are “using sub-par identity verification methods,” which allowed predators and criminals to easily set up accounts.
Currently, there is no standard system for identification, with different apps employing different methods.
“The repercussions of these inadequate safety measures include online risks such as catfishing, and in-person dangers, with the possibility of users meeting with strangers who aren’t who they say they are,” he said.Catfishing refers to the practice of luring a person into a meeting or relationship by using a fake online persona.
“If an online dating company with copies of identity documents were to be hacked, you can only imagine how this information could be misused,” said Mr. Bos.
Previous Cyber Incidents Targeting Dating Apps
One of the biggest data breaches involving dating apps was the AdultFriendFinder incident.
In 2015, the platform fell foul of a cyber attack that exposed the personal information of nearly four million users, including their usernames, email addresses, and dates of birth.
In 2021, the online dating platform MeetMindful was subject to a data breach that compromised the details of over two million subscribers. The attacker dumped a 1.2 GB file of the members’ information on a hacking forum.
This included real names, addresses, passwords, emails, and physical characteristics.
Mr. Bos, the CEO and founder of privacy protection app BlueKee, said strong identification methods were the “first step in a multi-faceted, industry-built solution.”
“The benefit of digital identity systems such as BlueKee is that users can share their pre-verified ID information without the need to disclose excessive personal data, such as a home address, by uploading copies of their ID documents to a server (possibly overseas) operated by an organisation whose core business is not the security and management of identity information,” he noted.
Meanwhile, Minister for Social Services Amanda Rishworth said dating app violence was gender-based and needed to be eliminated.
"There is no arbitrary line between online and offline in our lives anymore. Abuse can cross between them like osmosis," she said in a statement.
"We need to ensure that our community, including dating app users, know what it means to be respectful online, what kinds of behaviours are unacceptable, and the consequences for unacceptable behaviours."
Alfred Bui contributed to this article.