Slow down, Tinderella.
Keeping personal information private is a hot topic these days, thanks in part to Edward Snowden and the National Security Agency. People around the globe are, no doubt, rethinking what it means to share, store and send private information online.
For online daters, the line between public and private is a blurred one and, for most, is carefully navigated. But the NSA situation is a striking reminder that "better safe than sorry" applies in a big way when it comes to sharing private information online.
Despite the online dating advice and safety tips that most dating sites list out—such as never giving out financial information and always meeting a first date in a public place—there are some next-level actions that everyone looking for love online should follow.
1. Create an alternate e-mail address for all online dating correspondence.
As soon as someone knows your full name and the city you live in, all it takes is a quick search on a site like WhitePages or PeopleFinder to unearth your home address. Better to use an alternate e-mail address— and obviously one that doesn't contain your full name —until you feel 100% comfortable sharing more details with an online match.
2. Likewise, use an alternate phone number.
Think about it: Even if someone doesn't know your full name, there are sites that offer heaps of personal information based only on a phone number.
Not only can you sleep better at night having limited personal information out on the web, but using an alternate number offers all sorts of additional protection against unwanted communication from online connections (like not receiving suggestive texts in the middle of an important meeting at work).
MyAKA is a service that offers users a second phone number that they can access directly from their mobile or home phone. It offers customers the ability to text, call and receive incoming communications using an alternate phone number that MyAKA assigns them.
"We see this as a management tool," Founder John Skorick says. With MyAKA, you can block and later unblock a member from contacting you. MyAKA also allows users to turn on a "do not disturb" option, so that a sexy-texts-at-work scenario never ends up happening. "It's peace of mind that at least you're giving out a number that you have some control over."
Polly Morton, director of special projects at Reputation.com, which helps individuals and businesses influence what shows up in their search results online, takes it a step further.
"Giving away your home phone number is not only invasive, it's dangerous," she says, reaffirming how easy it is for someone to find your home address—and more—simply based on a phone number. "I really like the idea of using an alternate phone number instead."
3. Be photo savvy.
Morton recommends saving an image with a generic filename, like "photo," before uploading it to a dating site.
"Do not include your first or last name," she says, as this can easily reveal your true identity before you're ready to share it with someone you meet online.
Likewise, she advises, it's best to choose pictures with generic backgrounds. "Don’t have your home with street numbers in the background," she says, and cautions against including anything distinctive of your hometown.
4. Be careful when signing on in a public place like a coffee shop.
The greater number of users on a public network means an increased risk of having your online security breached. If the dating site you're using doesn't use the standard Web encryption HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure), you can download a browser add-on like HTTPS Everywhere to ensure your communications are safe from hacking.
5. Take responsibility for your online security; don't expect dating sites to do it for you.
While dating sites take certain preventive measures to protect you and your information (like not requiring a phone number at sign-up — if they don't have that information, there's zero risk of it falling into the wrong hands), it's still really on the users to watch their own backs.
Skorick says that part of the goal in founding MyAKA was to raise awareness to the fact that what we share online isn't always as secure as it seems. To this end, MyAKA has partnered with Break The Cycle, a nonprofit that works to end teen dating violence and abuse.
"Together, we're working to educate tomorrow's online daters," Skorick says.
Morton agrees that it's on the individual to make sure their online dating experience is safe. If you wouldn't want, say, your coworkers or your mom to see a certain photo of you, it's probably better to hold off on sending until you're sure the recipient is trustworthy.
"Online trust is pretty superficial," Morton says. "Wait until you get that 'offline' trust."