What happens when you stop using an online dating site or app? Do online dating services delete your data?
The goal of online dating is to find a romantic match, whether that’s for a night or for life. That means, unlike social media for example, most people aren’t using their accounts for an extended period of time. So what happens to your online dating profile after you close it out?
If you’ve used an online dating site or app, you gave them a lot of information. Sites like OkCupid and Match.com are explicit about it, asking you a catalogue of questions in order to (hopefully) provide you with a love match. Sites like Tinder and Grindr, on the other hand, collect a bunch of information in the background, oftentimes without user knowledge. And they all claim to use artificial intelligence to find the right person for every member.
“Artificial intelligence is a fancy buzzword,” Jen Caltrider, lead researcher at Mozilla’s *Privacy Not Included guide tells Avast. “It’s like this shiny ball that these companies are using for marketing. That’s fine for pet toys or something like that. But when you get into dating apps, you don’t know what’s being collected or why or how it’s affecting how you date.”
And you know what AI needs to work, right? Data. Lots and lots of data. Which explains why dating sites like to gobble up so much of it. They need that data to improve their services in order to gain more customers and, in some cases, to sell you ads. Or at the very least share your information with third party data brokers.
“Like all things, it all comes back to money,” Caltrider says. “They make money off of collecting your data and selling it.”
Caltrider also points out that these sites are notoriously bad when it comes to security. “Almost all of the major ones have had their data compromised at some time,” she says.
So if you’ve given up a bunch of extremely personal information to a dating site or app, what happens to it when you leave? Here’s what I found out.
There are a lot of online dating sites and apps, so let’s focus on a few of the top ones: the Match Group (which includes, among others, OkCupid, Match.com, Tinder, Hinge, and PlentyOfFish), Grindr, Bumble, and Spark Networks, which includes Jdate and ChristianMingle.
Match Group is massive, encompassing nine sites and apps — including some of the most popular ones in the United States. Each service collects slightly different data to serve up slightly different results — like match.com is usually for people looking for a life partner, while Tinder is generally more about short term dating, and the data they need to deliver those results differs. At the minimum you can expect that a Match Group site or app knows your gender, location, sexual/romantic preferences
Grindr asks for a lot of personal information, including the obvious — name, email, phone number, date of birth, HIV status, location, photos, and videos — and the less obvious — technical information that includes user activity, hardware and software info, sensor activity and cookies, and “other tracking technologies.”
And despite the fact that their user base is often vulnerable, especially in countries with anti-LGBTQIA+ laws, Grindr doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to keeping all of that information safe. That’s especially concerning when you consider how common nudes — which aren’t a problem on their own but do open up potential for exposure — are on the app.
Jdate and ChristianMingle are two religiously-focused dating sites that are owned by Spark Networks. Jdate is a dating site for people in the Jewish diaspora who are looking to date other Jewish people and ChristianMingle is the same for Christians.
Then there’s the dating-specific and payment stuff, which includes birth date, videos, password, billing information, credit card information, demographic information, place of work or education, your personal interests and background, gender, age, dating age range preference, physical characteristics, personal description, life experiences, geographic location, your photos.
So: A lot.
ChristianMingle has been around since 2001, which means it’s entirely possible that the children of people who met on the site are now on there themselves. In other words: They have a lot of user data, including name, gender, DOB, zip code, at least one photo, marital status, church attendance, occupation, whether you want to have kids, a description, interests, what you’re looking for, payment info, user behavior on the site, any content and metadata in your photos and videos, and the content of your messages.
Bumble is another swiping app that was founded when one of the cofounders of Tinder broke off from that company and formed her own, with the goal of serving the needs of women users. They collect users’ first names, at least one photo, DOB, gender, the type of connection they’re looking for, occupation, education, whether you’re interested in dating during Covid, city, hometown, exercise, star sign, drinking, smoking, pets, what you’re looking for, whether you want kids, religion, politics, and the content of your messages.
So what happens to all that data when you leave an online dating service? Unfortunately, the answer isn’t so clear. I reached out to all of the sites and apps covered here and only heard back from Match Group. Their representative pointed me to their “Privacy Principles,” which says: “Once you delete your account, the account is not visible on the service anymore. From there, we delete information subject to our legitimate interests, including legal requirements to retain data for litigation purposes and working to remove bad actors and keep them off our platforms.”
When I pointed out that this didn’t actually answer my question — which was “What happens if someone just lets an account go dormant?” I didn’t get a response. And a closer read of the text that they sent me doesn’t even really answer what happens when someone deletes their account. Does Match still have all of that data? Unfortunately at this point it’s not possible for me to say definitively either way.
If someone deletes their account, Grindr expunges basically everything they have about them after seven days: email address, phone number, display name, About Me, age, height, weight, body type, position, ethnicity, relationship status, tribes, looking for info, Meet At info, tags, interest in NSFW pics, gender, pronouns, HIV status, last STI testing date, profile picture, any linked social media, location, and advertising ID.
Finally, Bumble promises to delete your data starting 28 days after you deactivate it. They say that they retain any information they might need for legal purposes (like fraud or abuse on the platform) and they don’t say anything about accounts that are left dormant.
One of the best — and also often most complicated — ways to protect yourself online is to delete old accounts and, if possible, delete all of the data that account collected on you. But not everyone has the same rights.
If you live in California, you’re protected by the CCPA and you have the legal right to have any and all data deleted. In Europe and the UK, you’re protected by the GDPR and also have that right. If you’re not in any of those locations, you should still request that your data be deleted and see how they respond. Some companies will comply without question, while you might have to argue for your rights with others.
If you’re not sure which sites you’ve used in the past, follow these instructions on how to find old accounts. You can also use a service like BrandYourself, which has a privacy tool that will reach out to any old accounts associated with your email address and request that they be deleted.
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