Dating online can be a scary thing to navigate, especially for single women who are already skeptical of meeting up with a total stranger from the internet.
There are a few things that singles should definitely avoid doing online.
There are things you can do to minimize risk online
On the flip side, there are some things you can do to minimize any risk you might encounter while using dating apps.
We're breaking down the dating app dos and don'ts for any single person looking to keep their wits about them while searching for the perfect match.
Our smartphones store information about us
Even the most careful person can end up in a situation where their smartphone shares more than they intended.
Our cell phone technology is so advanced that it's easy to forget how much of our data it actually records and uses.
Some people are helping raise awareness
Thankfully, there are a few helpful professionals and even parents who have taken to social media to share some of the skills necessary to protect oneself while dating online.
These people are sharing some very useful information to help keep you safe on and offline.
Stored data is designed to improve user experience, but that's not always how it's used
Smartphones have the ability to map location, search history, and other various forms of information tracking.
Most of these things are done to improve the user experience and target specific ads.
Metadata details on a photo are associated with the camera that took the picture
Besides all the regular information tracking (GPS, wake-up routines, health data, internet browser data, etc.) there is also a lesser-known data tracking feature called "metadata."
Metadata are details associated with a camera that someone uses, usually on their phone.
Metadata is hidden information stored on an image file
So what exactly is metadata? According to TechTarget, image metadata is hidden information stored on an image file.
It includes multiple different kinds of data ranging from technical details (aperture, shutter speed, ISO number, etc.) to more descriptive data (creator, location, image keywords, captions, titles, etc.).
Two separate viral videos are breaking down the potential risk factors
Recently, two different TikTok videos have gone viral for explaining the specifics of metadata, why it can be useful, and also the risks it can pose to unaware users.
Both a retired detective and a mom are weighing in on the "phone tip" that could change how you interact online.
A mom/photographer shares tips and tricks on her social media
Chari Pack is a mom and also the founder of Persnickety Box, a digital photo print service.
She often shares photography-related tips and tricks on her TikTok page but one of her recent videos about metadata has gained more attention than usual, gaining over 2 million views.
"Don't show this to your kids!"
In a video titled "Don't show this to your kids!" the mom who goes by @persnicketybox on TikTok detailed how parents can stay on top of what their kids are up to.
Her caption reads: "The #phonetips you DON'T want your #kids to know about!"
Her son wanted to stay out late
Park explained that the idea for her video was inspired after her son texted her asking if he could stay out late at a friend's place playing basketball.
He said "Mom, can I stay til 11?" and sent her a picture from the court, adding "We're ballin' up."
She downloaded the photo he sent her and saved it to her photo album
The mom's response to her son was normal enough, but then she showed what happened when she downloaded the photo he had sent her.
After it was saved in her Photos app, she opened the photo's metadata using the iPhone's photo info feature.
She could see when and where the photo had been taken
With a simple tap, Park was able to see not only when the photo was taken, but also where so she knows whether her son was telling the truth or not.
She also showed how she could tell what camera (meaning whose phone) had been used to take the photo.
It's possible to alter metadata
Commenters on the video were quick to point out that viewing the metadata feature isn't always going to work because users are able to change a photo's metadata to alter the time and location.
It's certainly not a foolproof system.
Commenters judged the mom's parenting style
Other users judged the mom for her helicopter parenting style and "obsessive" control over her children.
Still, the moms' video raised important awareness about a phone feature that a lot of people didn't know existed. A retired detective who watched the mom's video took the opportunity to respond.
A retired detective responded to the video
The former detective provided a different perspective on metadata, one based on risk and crime prevention.
The data can be used to target vulnerable people
The metadata of a raw photo (like the one sent by Park's son) may not always be reliable but it can be a serious problem for people who send photos online.
@PurePower34 explains how the very same metadata that can tell a parent where their child is can also serve as location services to any potential stalkers, human traffickers, or other criminals who may come into possession of the picture.
The detective's former work showed how metadata can be used to target children
The former detective knows what he's talking about because his work used to deal with crimes against children and child predators.
Some of his cases brought him into contact with metadata and the ways that it had been used as a tool for criminals to keep tabs on potential victims.
Always be aware of your background in photos
The retired detective explained: "If you're online dating, you send photos to a stranger—you just sent them where you were. So if you’re standing on your porch when you took the photo, that could be an issue."
According to his advice, it's always important to be hyper-aware of your background and anything overly identifiable that could show up in image searches or Google street view.
There is a way around the metadata risk— take a screenshot
Speaking to BoredPanda, the retired detective offered a piece of saving advice for cellphone users who might be sending pictures online.
The easiest and most efficient way around accidentally sending private metadata is by always taking a screenshot of the photo you want to use, and sending that instead. Since screenshots do not have the same metadata as a raw photo they guarantee your privacy. It seems that some users online already knew this hack.
Be smart, safe, and aware when interacting with strangers online
In conclusion, the former detective advised that while metadata is important, it's more important for children and parents to be aware and diligent about who they are communicating with online.
He encourages educating kids with phones on the ways that the technology tracks information about their lives, and how it can potentially be used against them.