Journal of Information & Privacy Law

Location-Based Heartbreak: The Privacy of Dating Application Users is at Risk

By Carlos E. Carabajal, Production Editor on Friday, September 12th, 2014
5 Flares 5 Flares ×

To date, or not to date, that is the question—at least in 2014. Cell phones have essentially taken over the social life of most Americans and virtually anything can be done on them. One of those things is online dating. There are various dating applications that the general public can download to their cell phone like Tinder, OkCupid, Grindr, etc.[1] However, most of these dating applications have a unique feature to them. They are designed to grid users according to their closeness to all other users.[2] These types of apps use the location-based technologies in our phones in order to provide the proximate distance of users from each other.[3] If one decides to try these location based dating applications, through the terms of agreement, users agree to have their distance from other users revealed and may opt not to reveal their proximate distance.[4] These applications are intended, in the eyes of the public, to simply reveal how far away other users are from other users.[5]

With the right tools, however, the precise location of all social dating app users can be revealed.[6] That is because such applications may be used to triangulate the location of users by making unauthenticated calls to the dating app’s application programming interface (API).[7]  An API is the access point that all software developers use to link apps and services to another app.[8] Thus, anyone can access the API of such dating applications and find the 50 nearest users by making an unauthenticated call followed by making two more calls from two different locations.[9] This effectually triangulates the exact location of every user that has enabled location services.[10] By triangulating the precise location of users, other users can create a map that displays not only the location of users that have their location services enabled, but also their names and photos.[11]

The privacy implications that face users of location-based dating apps are scary. Although users have to agree to have their distance revealed, users still have a reasonable expectation of privacy from having their exact pinpoint location, rather than distance from other users, revealed.[12] Think of the vindictive ex that might get curious and try to find a former lover.[13] Even more alarming is that if anyone wanted to stalk another person, Tinder and Grindr would be perfect tools to utilize because of this security flaw.[14]  It’s safe to say that users would not agree to such exposure. Not only that, but it is even possible to trick the app’s messaging system and allow individuals to impersonate other users.  Thus, in this day and age, individuals might want to reconsider whether they will use location-based dating applications to find that perfect date.



[1] Dan Gualtieri, Best Dating Apps 2014, Laptop (May 20, 2014, 2:45 PM), http://blog.laptopmag.com/best-dating-apps.

[2] Id.

[3] James Cook, Security Flaw in Gay Dating App Grindr Reveals Precise Location of 90% of Users, Business Insider (Aug. 29, 2014, 5:10AM), http://www.businessinsider.com/exploit-reveals-location-of-grindr-users-2014-8.

[4] Id. 

[5] Id; See also Tinder, Inc, http://www.gotinder.com/terms/ (last visited Sep. 6, 2014); See also Grindr, http://grindr.com/terms-of-service (last visited Sep. 6, 2014).

[6] James Cook, Security Flaw in Gay Dating App Grindr Reveals Precise Location of 90% of Users, Business Insider (Aug. 29, 2014, 5:10AM), http://www.businessinsider.com/exploit-reveals-location-of-grindr-users-2014-8.

[7] Id. 

[8] Id. 

[9] Id. 

[10] Id. 

[11] Id. 

[12] In re Application of the United States for Historical Cell Site Data, 724 F.3d 600, 615 (5th Cir. 2013).

[13] Malarie Gokey, You’d be oh-so easy to stalk – Tinder revealed users’ exact location for months, Tech Times (Feb. 20, 2014, 6:10PM), http://www.techtimes.com/articles/3624/20140220/youd-be-oh-so-easy-to-stalk-tinder-revealed-users-exact-locations-for-months.htm.

[14] Id. 

5 Flares Twitter 0 Facebook 5 5 Flares ×

Leave a Reply