The industry has been instructed to create a voluntary code of conduct to enhance user safety.
Users of online dating apps may face increased risks of digital sexual abuse, such as “catfishing,” due to the inadequate security measures of the platforms, according to a cyber expert.
The federal Labor government has notified major dating apps to establish a voluntary code of conduct to safeguard users from predators and criminals. If they fail to do so, the government will impose its own code of conduct by mid-2024.
This action is a response to the growing incidents of abuse and sexual violence among individuals using online dating platforms. A study conducted in 2022 found that nearly three out of four dating app users have experienced sexual violence in the past five years, with sexual harassment being the most prevalent form of abuse.
Dr. Philip Bos, a specialist in customer identity theft protection and security, supports the government’s efforts to improve the safety of dating apps, stating that it could provide significant security benefits for users.
“An industry-wide code of practice is crucial to ensure the highest level of safety for Australians,” he stated in an email to The Epoch Times.
Mr. Bos emphasized the importance of rigorous identification to enable users to verify their identities. He pointed out that popular platforms like Tinder, Bumble, and Hinge are currently using subpar identity verification methods, making it easy for predators and criminals to create accounts.
Presently, there is no standardized system for identification, with various apps employing different methods.
“The repercussions of these inadequate safety measures include online risks such as catfishing and in-person dangers, as users may meet with strangers who are not who they claim to be,” he warned.
Catfishing refers to the deceptive practice of luring someone 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, the potential misuse of this information is concerning,” Mr. Bos added.
Previous Cyber Incidents Targeting Dating Apps
One of the largest data breaches involving dating apps was the AdultFriendFinder incident.
In 2015, the platform fell victim to 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 experienced a data breach that compromised the details of over two million subscribers. The attacker leaked a 1.2 GB file containing members’ information on a hacking forum.
This information included real names, addresses, passwords, emails, and physical characteristics.
Mr. Bos, the CEO and founder of privacy protection app BlueKee, believes that strong identification methods are the first step towards a comprehensive solution developed by the industry.
“Digital identity systems like BlueKee have the advantage of allowing users to share pre-verified ID information without disclosing excessive personal data, such as a home address, by uploading copies of their ID documents to a server operated by an organization whose main business is not managing identity information,” he explained.
Meanwhile, Minister for Social Services Amanda Rishworth stated that dating app violence is gender-based and must be eradicated.
“There is no longer a clear distinction between online and offline in our lives. Abuse can transition between them like osmosis,” she said in a statement.
“We need to ensure that our community, including dating app users, understands what it means to be respectful online, what behaviors are unacceptable, and the consequences for such behaviors.”
Alfred Bui contributed to this article.