5 Ways to Make Online Dating Safer

When it comes to online dating, it seems there are two types of people: 1) People who do it, and 2) people who make fun of it. And many single people have found themselves in both groups.

The fact is millions, if not billions, of relationships have begun online. And that number is growing as the lines between offline and online merge.

Online dating is an especially interesting issue for us because it merges many of the issues we think about most: security, online safety, content control and social networks.

The fact is by “putting yourself out there” online, you do open yourself to risks you might avoid otherwise. You may also open yourself up to the person you’ll spend your whole life with. If you want to give it a try or try it again, we recommend a few precautions.

1. Trust your instincts.
A rule of dating that is often mocked is “Be yourself.” It’s so vague and unhelpful. But what people seem to be saying is “Trust you gut.” If something gives you a bad feeling, if you regret signing up for a site, if you regret making a date, step back. The great thing about dating online is that you’re increasing your options. So don’t worry about blowing one opportunity. If something gives you a bad feeling, back off and apologize. Don’t be afraid to cut off contact or even erase emails before you open them. It’s your gut, protect it.

2. Remember that the Internet never forgets.
Anything you do online creates some sort of data trail. Any message you send can be made public. Any picture you post can be reposted. In the past, only celebrities had to worry about their private activities being made public. Now we all do. So imagine that anything you share could go public and definitely close any accounts once you’re done using them.

3. Secure your PC.
When using any social network, you should make sure all the applications and your security software are patched and protected. (Our Health Check makes that easy.) Also keep in mind that by putting your email out in the world, you’re making yourself more vulnerable to email scams. For this reason we recommend never clicking on the links in emails.

4. Get the low down.
Talk to your friends who have tried out online dating. Ask them for their tips and regrets. If you don’t feel comfortable chatting with someone you know, Match.com has a nice list of all the possible safety precautions you should be taking. Also, Google the people you’ll be meeting, and their email addresses. You may be surprised at what you find.

5. Go the extra mile.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation recommends, “Get a throw-away email address, avoid using your name, and avoid paid sites that would elicit your credit card number and billing information. To maintain the highest levels of privacy, consider taking steps to obfuscate your IP address, such as using a VPN.” Also, you should use https on secured networks whenever possible. Keep in mind that any site you trust with your data is only as good as its privacy policy and its word.

Cheers,

Jason

CC image: Julien Haler

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You should know that Facebook can play with your emotions. If you're reading this you're probably aware that your Facebook feed doesn't simply serve you the latest posts from the friends and pages you follow. Given that most of us follow hundred -- if not thousands -- of people, places and brands, a real-time feed would dramatically  change the Facebook experience. And it would likely greatly reduce engagement, which is the site's life force. But if you do know this, you may be in the minority. A new study from a team of researchers from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, California State University, Fresno and the University of Michigan found that most of a group of 40 Facebook users, 62.5 percent had no idea that their feed is filtered by the world's largest social network. And not knowing that actually seemed to have negative affects on users' psyches. “In the extreme case, it may be that whenever a software developer in Menlo Park adjusts a parameter, someone somewhere wrongly starts to believe themselves to be unloved,” the researchers wrote. The study used a tool to create an unfiltered feed that showed them what they'd been missing. While they weren't thrilled how Facebook decided which friends posts they'd see, "[m]ost came to think that the filtering and ranking software was actually doing a decent job," Fusion's Alex Madrigal writes. In 2014, Facebook partnered in an academic paper that revealed it had manipulated users feeds to adjust how many positive and negative posts they saw. It found that moods were contagious. Positive feeds led to positive posts and vice versa. Users agree to such manipulation in Facebook's terms and conditions -- which you clearly know by heart -- but the revelation still led to a huge backlash. In the recent study, participants found that being aware they were being fed stories by Facebook's algorithm "bolstered overall feelings of control on the site" and led to more active engagement. So if you didn't know a formula was guiding your interactions before you probably already feel better. But there's more you can do if you want to make sure Facebook is showing you the things you actually want to see. 1. Be proactive. Go directly to the pages of the people, companies and artists you want to see more of then engage. Like posts or comments. Comment yourself. Share posts. Facebook's motivation is to keep you on the site as long as humanly possible--and it's very good at it. If it's not showing something you'd enjoy seeing, it probably would like to. So let it know. 2. Choose "Most Recent" posts.     In the left column of your home page, click on the arrow next to "News Feed". If you select "Most Recent", your experience will likely be less filtered. Though you still should not to expect to see every post that ends up on the site. 3. Go to News Feed Preferences. Click on the down arrow that's on every Facebook page and select News Feed Preferences. The goal here is to unfollow anything you're sick of seeing so you get more of what you do want. Or re-follow people or things you've missed. 4. Tell your feed what you like.         Facebook wants you to take an active role in adjusting your algorithm. That's why every post in your feed has a dim down arrow that you can select. If something really bugs you, tell Facebook you don't want to see and Unfollow the person or page. If you really love it, you can "Turn on notifications" which guarantees that every future post ends up in your notifications -- that little globe on the top navigation. Your notifications can act as a secondary newsfeed to make sure you don't miss posts from your favorites. 5. Switch to Twitter and Tweetdeck. If you want complete control over your newsfeed, you're never going to get it on Facebook. Even Twitter is moving away from this method of feeding content for a pretty simple reason, it needs more engagement. Given that Facebook and Twitter employee dozens if not hundred of programmers and experts paid to make their sites captivate you, they figure they're better at it than you. If you want to prove them wrong, Twitter's Tweetdeck app, which works in your browser, still offers unmediated newsfeeds so you can feed your own brain. Twitter isn't quite as personal or ubiquitous as Facebook -- but it is the next best thing. Try it out and see if you feel more loved. Cheers, Jason [Photo by Geraint Rowland | Flickr]

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