Dating is an interesting on-line service. It touches on a very private aspect of our lives, but is conducted over the Internet, which has many anonymity and privacy challenges. It also brings a radical change to the ways we find a spouse. Previously we used to meet people in person, get a crush and then later find out if we are compatible. On-line dating turns this upside down, you can first screen the “market” for candidates which seem to be suitable. Then you see them and get the crush, or not. Taste varies, some prefer on-line dating, some the traditional way.
An unavoidable aspect of on-line dating is that you have to publicly state the fact that you are seeking company. Some people are fine with that, some are hesitant. Can you even do on-line dating without revealing who you really are? Yes, you can. But there are several things you should know and think about before setting up your profile.
I recently got an excellent opportunity to do some research in this area without cheating on anyone, but let’s not go into details about that. 😉 Here comes my findings and advice for singles who want to hide their true identities.
- Do care about your privacy. Or at least think about it thoroughly before going on-line. You may have an extrovert personality and be OK with publishing private things. But you will sooner or later run into someone who didn’t take the medicine and deals badly with a no. It’s so much easier to deal with those if they don’t know your real name and contact info.
- Your alias. Dating services assume you want some level of privacy and let users appear under aliases. Do not selects the same alias as you use on other services. It is easy to Google for it, and your real identity may be visible on another service where you use the same alias.
- The profile picture. Dating services vary but the picture of you is almost always very important. And some services require a picture where you are recognizable. This means that you can’t be anonymous for people who know you. The best strategy is to just accept this, but there are alternatives. You can use a profile picture that deliver some kind of feeling or tells something about your life, but you are not recognizable in the picture. Or you can omit it completely.
- Use a unique picture. Modern search engines can easily find where a certain picture has been published. The picture may link your profile to other services where you reveal more personal info than you want revealed in this context. Make sure your profile picture isn’t on-line anywhere else.
- Your picture can contain unwanted meta-data. Many modern cameras automatically add the owner’s name, and even contact info, into hidden fields in digital photos. Professionals and serious amateurs may also use workflows that add this data later. It’s also very common with geotagged photos, photos with embedded GPS-coordinates. Those coordinates may point to your home. The dating service may strip out this data automatically, but it’s better to be on the safe side and do it before uploading.
- Your e-mail. Sometimes you chat inside the dating service, sometimes it’s more convenient to continue by e-mail. It’s a no-brainer that an e-mail address like firstname.lastname@something .com is a privacy problem. But even a more anonymous address is yet another thing that people can google for, and perhaps find you in another context. Set up a separate free mail account dedicated for the dating project. That’s convenient and safe.
- Chat handles and phone number. The same is actually true for all kinds of communication. Set up dedicated chat accounts. Get a cheap pre-paid phone if you want to talk to, or text with, untrusted persons.
- Communication and contents. It’s a no-brainer that you can give away your identity when communicating with someone. Mail footers and thoughtlessly revealed information comes to mind immediately. But what may be less obvious is that the issues with pictures not only affect your profile picture. Any picture file you share with the other part may be a privacy risk in the same way. Also check the URL if you share links to uploaded photos or videos. Is your cloud account identifiable from the link?
- Yes, you can google other people. Some people thinks it’s a bad manners to dig for info about others by googling. That’s a really outdated attitude. You can google for others and you can’t expect others to not google you. Be prepared that people will use any tiny piece of information you share to learn more about you. That’s just how the world works today, trying to fight it is futile.
- And last but not least. When you find someone, you have to come out of your shell sooner or later. There’s always a point when you have to trust the other and reveal your true identity. People like to know who they are dealing with and you can score some extra points by being brave and open about who you are. Holding on to your anonymity too long sends a message of distrust. But you should naturally first communicate with the other for a while to make sure he or she is sane. And remember that most people are OK. The stalkers and trouble-makes are a minority, but keep in mind that they do exist.
Several things to think about, but dating anonymously is not really hard. There’s a lot of talk about Internet privacy now after the Snowden-revelations. It is next to impossible to be truly anonymous on-line if an intelligence agency is after you. But this is totally different. Here we are talking about peer-privacy, not provider-privacy or authority-privacy. These instructions are enough to maintain your anonymity against your peers, but not to run a criminal business. This level of privacy is probably enough for most on-line daters.
Good luck. Just go for it. Think about your privacy but don’t let it put you off. Prepare for some disappointments but remember that sooner or later luck will shine on you. 🙂