News & Politics

Forget All Those Selfies—Tinder Has Amassed a Lot of Data on Millions Looking For a Hook Up

What if users' personal Tinder data were to fall into the hands of hackers?

Photo Credit: Alejandro Ruhl / Shutterstock.com

What started as this decade’s most current way to hook up is, in fact, an intelligent search engine, helping the single and willfully enamored recover from one dead date after another. Tinder, the Dallas-based dating site, has created a business out of the concept of love, building an enterprise out of users’ selfies, our phones' ability to swipe right, and of course, its access to clients' social media profiles. And while we might guess that Tinder’s aggregate data reflects aspects of our own desire, many users would be shocked to learn how detailed and valuable that data is to the company—and how dangerous that data would be in the hands of hackers.

French journalist Judith Duportail wanted to investigate these potential dangers, so she enrolled data privacy rights activist Paul-Olivier Dehaye and human rights lawyer Ravi Naik to help her with her project. Duportail's quest to uncover her own "desirability score," ultimately resulted in an elaborate document, covering her dating habits and preferences, while providing her with over 800 pages worth of material.

Though Duportail was not able to uncover how Tinder’s algorithm rated her sexiness—the company claimed that releasing this information would be the equivalent of disclosing the treasured codes to its success—Tinder did give Duportail all the personal data it had collected from her profile since 2013, summarizing her most scandalizing and onerous dating practices. The information covered aspects like the age range of men she went for, her Facebook likes and email confessionals, her racial tendencies when dating on Tinder, as well as a log-book of times she serially dated in one day.

Equally astonishing, along with this discovery, was that Duportail needed a human rights lawyer and a press pass to access it. Several friends of Duportail also approached Tinder for their information and not a single one heard back from the company.

Duportail’s sidekick and privacy expert Paul-Olivier Dehaye found it equally revealing that their investigation exposed the limited access to personal data, while portending a changing landscape for consumers, especially in the EU.

Dehaye is the founder of PersonalData.IO, a Swiss startup that helps individuals obtain control over their personal user data. As Dehaye claims, shifts in personal data control may be on the horizon, especially when the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is implemented in spring of 2018.

Right now, data is corporate power, and for the most part, individual users have no rights to this information. Meanwhile, tech companies and the state own or have rights to, this information. In a reality where the economy depends on vast movements of data, “names are trivial,” at least compared to your profile’s aggregate data.

The EU’s law takes somewhat of a stand on the issue, allowing individuals to argue their right to what they consider their personal data, and in some cases, delete it. As Dehaye writes, GDPR “will transform consumers into real actors in the data economy.” Individual users will be able to access their own data archives, and potentially, delete elements of them.

But what if you don’t live in the EU? Either way, your date’s data is still available. Just because Tinder doesn’t want to print off 800 pages describing the minutiae of your sexual empowerment, doesn’t mean a lifetime hacker won’t do it. As Duportail found out, formal requests are a droll way to access your data. Even Github can show you how, using its "Tinder Scraper” tool.

It’s happened before. In 2016, a Danish researcher publically released 70,000 profiles from OkCupid, and some critics labeled the researcher a “white supremacist," for trying to establish a link between intelligence and religious beliefs. It’s a frightening example of who could gain more power from obtaining our data. (For the record, OkCupid is owned by Tinder’s parent company Match Group.)

So whether or not you condone it, the deleterious details of your dating life are out there available in public. Before you let yourself believe your secrets really are secure, recognize what a goldmine data science has become and make sure you are clicking consciously.

Sophie Linden is an editorial assistant at AlterNet's office in Berkeley, CA. 

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