October 03, 2019

Dating apps have increased in popularity and number over the past decade; however, their growing popularity has created security risks for users, particularly Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) individuals. Two of the first dating apps originated in the gay community, and since then, dating apps have expanded to give all members of the LGBTQ community a new way to find a partner. LGBTQ individuals, especially those living in conservative or intolerant societies, may feel that dating apps are the only safe avenue to find potential partners, which has contributed to these apps’ popularity. However, these apps may present a security threat to LGBTQ users, as anti-LGBTQ individuals and government officials in countries worldwide have reportedly been exploiting dating app location services to target individuals to harass, assault, or imprison based on their sexual orientation. The threat is especially prominent in intolerant areas such as Russia, former Soviet Republic countries, Africa, and parts of Asia, as these regions typically possess oppressive laws towards the LGBTQ community.


Risks of Using Location-based LGBTQ Dating Apps

Egyptian police officers lured a gay man into a “date” that led to the man’s arrest for debauchery. Police used printouts of the dating app chat history and his phone as evidence of the charge. After serving 11 weeks in a detention center, the man was convicted and sentenced to a year in prison.

The targeted use of dating app location services has led to violence and persecution against members of the LGBTQ community. Dating app location services are designed to ensure that app users within a certain distance can meet each other; however, this feature presents a security threat to LGBTQ individuals. Almost all dating apps show the approximate location of dating app users to other users and identify connections within a certain distance. Although convenient, this presents a security risk for all users as anti-LGBTQ individuals can exploit app location services to triangulate the approximate location of users.

While dangers exist for all dating apps users, members of the LGBTQ community face a unique risk as government officials and anti-LGBTQ individuals abuse dating app location services to find LGBTQ users to assault, harass, or imprison. Targeting methods on dating apps can include luring LGBTQ victims to a private location by proposing a “date,” blackmailing users who send nude photos, or triangulating users’ approximate location. Government officials have also targeted LGBTQ individuals in countries where homosexuality is legal, using defunct or vague laws to arrest LGBTQ individuals.


LGBTQ Security Threats Vary by Country

LGBTQ individuals are likely at a higher risk of being targeted through dating apps in higher-threat and intolerant countries, though the threat exists in every country. Violence targeting LGBTQ individuals through dating apps has been reported in higher-threat countries such as Russia, Egypt, and South Africa, as well as lower-threat countries such as the US, the UK, and the Netherlands. Targeted violence against the LGBTQ community is typically well-publicized in lower-threat countries as incidents are uncommon. Violent incidents against the LGBTQ community occur more frequently in higher-threat countries as they possess discriminatory laws and are generally intolerant; such incidents are not likely to be widely publicized unless the situation is particularly violent, or the victim is a foreign traveler. Additionally, reporting of crimes targeting the LGBTQ community varies around the world as LGBTQ individuals can face discrimination or not be taken seriously by authorities.



Managing User Privacy in Dating Apps

Multiple dating apps have instituted protections for LGBTQ individuals, particularly for individuals traveling to higher-threat locations, including Russia, former Soviet Republic countries, and Africa; however, the app protections may not be foolproof. To mitigate the risk of being targeted for a hate crime, some apps automatically hide LGBTQ users’ location or profile upon entering a higher-threat area. LGBTQ users can then choose to keep their location hidden or make their profile public. If a user chooses to remain public, the app hides their sexual orientation or gender identity to safeguard these individuals from being targeted for violence. Other apps have instituted an alerting system to notify the user when they are in a country that has laws criminalizing or discriminating against LGBTQ individuals.

Although many dating apps have put safety measures in place, the apps may not fully protect LGBTQ users from being targeted. Your LGBTQ employees using dating apps must be aware of the potential safety and security risks and read and understand the mitigation measure they can implement to protect their privacy when signing up for the platform. Share the following tips with your employees to help protect their safety and privacy.

  • Avoid public Wi-Fi access points and refrain from sharing any personally identifiable information, such as workplace, on a dating network.
  • Do not accept drinks, cigarettes, or chewing gum from strangers, as reports have shown that some assailants taint these products with drugs.
  • If caught in a potentially violent situation, immediately seek shelter in upscale hotels or large public buildings such as libraries, theaters, hospitals, or museums.
  • The laws of that country bind visitors to that country; visitors cannot expect their home country officials to release them from a foreign country’s prison. Home country consulates will be able to give only limited assistance to imprisoned citizens. In some countries, the burden of proof rests on the accused, not the prosecutor.
  • Be careful of cultural bias when assessing LGBTQ acceptance. In Africa and Asia, do not assume to understand mannerisms unless you are familiar with the culture; for example, handholding between men is common and meant as a gesture of friendship, not sexual attraction. Other behaviors that may appear romantically intimate may be platonic.
  • Avoid using dating apps in countries where homosexuality is illegal or cities where there is a high rate of LGBTQ-related violence.
  • Do not use LGBTQ social networking or dating apps in locations where authorities have totally or partially banned them, such as Turkey, Lebanon, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, and Egypt.
  • Do not assume to be safe from arrest in countries where homosexuality is legal.
  • Avoid sending explicit pictures to other app users to avoid being targeted by blackmailers.
  • Do not publicly engage in any behaviors that may draw unwanted attention.
  • If you are a traveler from a lower-threat country or traveling in a lower-threat country, report incidents to your local embassy or consulate if targeted by a government official, blackmailer, or anti-LGBTQ individual. Avoid reporting incidents to your local embassy if you are a traveler from a higher-threat area as this could lead to arrest.
  • If organizing a date in a lower-threat location, always meet others in a neutral public place. Do not arranging dates in higher-threat locations; however, if planning a date in a higher-threat location, be aware that a public same-sex date could lead to harassment, discrimination, or arrest.
  • Understand local expressions and words that may indicate a derogatory view of LGBTQ individuals.


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