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Mozilla Study Says: Most Dating Apps Fail at Data Privacy

Recent study by Mozilla revealed that dating apps are ramping up their data collection efforts, sacrificing user privacy
April 23, 2024

Dating apps, in their quest to win over Gen Z users, are adopting increasingly invasive data collection practices, according to a recent study by Mozilla. The study, which reviewed 25 dating apps for privacy practices in 2021, found that the majority of them are "Privacy Not Included," with only a few exceptions.

While Queer-owned and operated Lex received a positive review from Mozilla, Harmony and Happn were deemed passable. However, 80% of the apps studied were flagged for potentially sharing or selling user data for advertising purposes. 

For instance, apps like Bumble have ambiguous privacy clauses that may allow them to sell user data to advertisers. According to Mozilla, an in-app popup from Bumble states, “We use services that help improve marketing campaigns... Under certain privacy laws, this may be considered selling or sharing your personal information with our marketing partners.”

Many of these apps, including Hinge, Tinder, OKCupid, Match, and Plenty of Fish, collect precise geolocation data from users. Hinge, for example, collects location data even when the app is not in use, stating in its policy, “The collection of your geolocation may occur in the background even when you aren’t using the services if the permission you gave us expressly permits such collection.”

The study also raises concerns about the role of data brokers. While dating apps claim to collect user data to improve matchmaking, the study warns that if this data ends up with data brokers, it can have serious consequences. 

Last year, The Washington Post reported that a U.S.-based Catholic group bought data from Grindr to monitor some members. Grindr, which received one of the lowest ratings in Mozilla's review, has a history of privacy and security lapses.

Zoë MacDonald, one of the authors of the report, criticized dating apps for their privacy practices, saying, “If dating apps think people are going to keep handing over their most intimate data – basically, everything but their mother’s maiden name – without finding love, they’re underestimating their users. Their predatory privacy practices are a dealbreaker.”

The study comes at a time when dating app downloads are slowing down, according to data from analytics firm Additionally, Pew Research data from last year suggests that only three in 10 adults have ever used a dating site or app, a figure that has remained unchanged since 2019. 

To engage potential daters, companies are exploring new avenues, including AI-powered features. Match Group announced during its Q3 2024 earnings that it plans to leverage AI. Similarly, Grindr plans to introduce an AI chatbot that could engage in sexually explicit language, according to a report from Platformer.

However, as dating apps collect more data, there are growing concerns about user privacy. Mozilla privacy researcher Misha Rykov emphasized that dating apps have a responsibility to protect user data from exploitation. 

“To forge stronger matches, users have to share a significant amount of personal information. Dating apps must protect this data from exploitation,” Rykov said.

Earlier this year, Mozilla evaluated AI bots that could act as romantic partners and found serious concerns about their security and data sharing practices.

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