Mobile phones have become ubiquitous - they're now an extension of our everyday lives. The rise of technology also brought the emergence of various social media platforms and applications designed to make our lives easier and more convenient. This includes online dating apps designed to help us find companions (it has been suggested that more people now find a partner online than offline). However, our constantly connected culture brings great risks, such as identity fraud, harassment and theft. Beyond a handful of pictures, emojis and light-hearted messages, we have very little knowledge of a person's true intentions or motives when they are positioned behind a social media account or dating profile.
Recently, there have been calls to increase awareness of these dangers, in the wake of an increase in crimes relating to dating apps of 560 per cent in the last two years and a huge 412 crimes relating to Grindr and Tinder in 2015 . There are clearly dangers associated with consumers sharing too much information on social media using modern dating apps. But what are the main points to be aware of?
These days, after booking a holiday and receiving tickets, it's not uncommon to see people post pictures of their boarding passes on sites such as Facebook and Twitter. However, this is really dangerous. Not only are they sharing all of their travel details with potential criminals, they're also providing information that, when correlated with other personal information about them from elsewhere on the Internet, could allow cybercriminals to target them. After all, the criminals now know that the house will be empty for two weeks.
Additionally, when posting pictures on social media, there is the inherent risk of having our 'face' stolen. Everyone loves to take a selfie, but posting pictures on Facebook for the world to see opens up a whole new world of problems when considering that the content is easily accessible by cybercriminals. We now know that facial recognition systems can be spoofed - including using pictures from Facebook. It's important to consider what use a cybercriminal might make of your pictures before posting them online.
Unfortunately, the dangers of over-sharing information aren't always glaringly obvious, and we're even more likely to be caught off-guard when using a smartphone or tablet to go online. These devices haven't been a traditional target for cybercriminals, so we unknowingly feel secure using them (although mobile malware has grown exponentially over the last five years). It's important to avoid a false sense of security when posting information online. There's a good rule to live by to help avoid oversharing information online - if you wouldn't publish something on the front page of a newspaper, don't post it online.
So, how can we do a better job of protecting ourselves online? When using social media, it's important to note that each individual social media platform is a treasure trove for scammers who are able to gather our personal data. This data is then often used to engage in fraudulent activities. To counteract this, it's always a good idea to review security settings on Facebook, Twitter and other social network accounts.
Dangers of dating apps
Online or offline, meeting strangers will always carry inherent risks. The risks are compounded when using online dating apps, not least because of the danger of identity theft. So it pays to take the same precautions when arranging a real-world meeting with an online date as you would in 'real life' - for instance, it would be unwise to arrange to meet a real life first date down a dark alley having told no one where you were going.
Various measures can be taken in order to minimise these risks, and whilst taking such precautions might not make us totally safe, they limit our exposure to risk.
The first and most obvious measure is not to trust people online automatically. There's no way to confirm someone's true appearance or motives through the messages they're exchanging with us. Take the Ashley Madison hack for example. Of the 37 million registered customers, only around 12,000 of the active accounts turned out to be real women. Most of the others were either men, or just bots.
Secondly, and this relates back to the usage of social media, linking our Facebook or Instagram profile with the online dating app can prove to be problematic, especially in the hands of burglars or fraudsters. If we happen to 'match' with someone with ill intent, they're able to gain access to our social media pages, which are likely to include addresses, pictures and more personal information.
Most of all, it's important to remember that there isn't a digital platform in existence that is 100 per cent secure, especially with dating apps, dating websites and social media being used every day by a growing portion of the global population. It's therefore of paramount importance that security is always top of mind and that we don't let ourselves fall foul of over-sharing.