Instances of abuse over dating apps go unreported and the apps by design allow fake profiles and stalkers to thrive on their platforms, say users.

Grindr and Tinder becoming a stalkers paradise Identity theft abuse plague apps
news Dating apps Wednesday, July 24, 2019 - 11:25

When Suraj K* (name changed), a 26-year-old queer person working with a tech firm in Hyderabad, matched with a prospective date on Grindr, he did not think it would lead to two weeks of mental harassment. "My number was given to random men, and I got like 15 to 20 phone calls, Whatsapp texts and video calls in a day. It really freaked me out," Suraj tells TNM.

Suraj was approached over the dating app Grindr by someone claiming to know him personally. "Hey aren't you the first-floor guy?" was the first message he received from the stalker. Grindr is a popular dating app used by the LGBTQ community in India. The app grants anonymity, but at the cost of some profiles being inauthentic.

Dating apps such as Grindr and Tinder are increasingly becoming hubs for stalkers with various instances of identity theft, mental, and even physical abuse coming up on social media. Though these apps often help its users find a date, the app by its very design often exposes its users to abuse, say their users.

When Suraj was interacting with his stalker, he didn't know it was a fake profile as the Grindr user had pictures from a genuine Instagram user. The Grinder app allows users to link their Grindr profile to any Instagram, Facebook or Twitter account without authentication. Grindr refuses to acknowledge that this to be a problem.

"Apps like Tinder let you connect to Instagram only if it's your account. But on Grindr, I can put anyone's Instagram username and it will show up on my profile. It's like the app makes it easy to let people cheat or create fake profiles," says Suraj, who found nothing suspicious as the Grindr user had a picture of a regular looking person whom he didn’t recognise. "But while chatting I understood that he knew a lot about me," he adds.

The stalker knew Suraj’s hometown, his residence in Hyderabad, the company where he worked. The stalker knew people from Suraj’s friends circle and even where he celebrated his last birthday. "He knew very specific details. Something like how my washroom looked even. But he was not revealing his identity. In my curiosity to know who this person is, I ended up giving my number to him," a decision Suraj calls a "big mistake."

Hours after Suraj shared his phone number, he started receiving random phone calls from unknown men, lewd Whatsapp text messages, some homophobic in nature. This went on for two weeks. "The worst part was that I could not figure out who this person was. It was hard for me to understand why someone would want to do this. It was not a prank anymore. It was bullying. Bullying by someone without a face," he says.

One Grindr user from Hyderabad TNM spoke to was physically abused at the home of his date; he did not file a police complaint fearing social stigma. Another user was blackmailed into doing sexual acts over threats of revealing personal details online. None of these survivors approached the police to register a complaint.

Grindr is not alone in users reporting horror dating stories, Tinder too has its fair share if not even more as most of its users are women. Most of these instances go unreported.

When Namratha a public relations professional in Hyderabad swiped right on a sales manager working in the city, little did she know that her rejection would make him vindictive.

"The man wanted to marry me after a few dates but I made it clear to him at the start of the dating phase that I was not interested in any relationships. As he was in a senior position he wanted to hire the public relations where I worked communications. I gave him the necessary contacts," Namratha says.

But the rejection did not go down well with him, says Namratha who soon found tagged to an email sent by rejected date to her boss. "He said his firm would only sign enter a contract with our agency if am kept out of the loop. Lucky for me my boss understood what was happening and rejected him and his firm. In any other firm, such an email would have cost me my job," she adds.

In another instance, the Tinder date did not understand the concept of consent. "We went for a drive to ORR and he wanted to have sex. We did not go on a date on such a promise. I asked him to drop me at the next bus stop but he insisted on dropping me home. I have blocked him, but he is still out there on Tinder," says a Tinder user.

Many women use Tinder, as it gives them control over accepting or rejecting a date. But the app does not have any feature to let its women users know if any of their prospective dates have been previously reported for bad behaviour.

Women account for over 38% of Tinders 10 million daily users, unlike traditional dating services that let anyone contact a woman's profile, Tinder gives control to women by matching them only if the app users have expressed mutual interest by swiping each other right. This helps keep the 'creeps away' at a better rate than most other dating app. But Tinder, like its peers, does have its fair share of fake profiles, scammers and stalkers.Tinder is powered by an AI, that can identify fake profiles and down rate them, thus the profile is not displayed to its other users. However, it is unclear if Tinder's AI would give less preference to a user who has been reported by another user.

TNM reached out to Grindr, alerting them about fake users slinking social media profiles of real users on the app. Grindr said they are "sorry to hear of these issues occurring in India." A spokesperson for the app said they are deeply committed to creating a safe and secure environment for their LGBTQ users, but only ask users to report the fake user.

"Any fraudulent activity is a clear violation of our terms of service, and something we take very seriously. We encourage our users to utilise the in-app reporting functionality, and reports of inappropriate activity will be reviewed by our moderators and customer support agents, who then remove offending profiles as appropriate," said Grindr.

With respect to the app allowing social media profiles of literally anyone to be linked with a Grindr account, the US-based firm replied, "We are continually assessing our practices and implementing new measures to provide a safe environment on our platform.” The terms and conditions of the app also waive its liability to any lawsuit by its users outside of the US.

TNM reached out to Tinder asking if their women users can expect a feature where they can know beforehand if a person has been reported for bad behaviour.

Taru Kapoor, General Manager, Tinder and Match Group, India replied saying the firm takes the safety, security and well-being of its users very seriously. "We are continuously exploring new updates, partnerships and technologies to enhance and inform our safety efforts, while still fostering a respectful environment for meeting new people. We utilize a network of industry-leading automated and manual moderation and review tools, systems and processes – and invest significantly – to prevent, monitor and remove inappropriate behaviour from our app," she says.

Tinder says it has a zero-tolerance policy on online bullying and harassment and encourages communities to report any instance of misconduct and anyone who violates their Community Guidelines or Terms of Use via their self-reporting tool featured on all Tinder profiles or by contacting their team online. The company has a community team that reviews and takes 'appropriate measures, which may include removing the profile or banning the user'.

Ask the Hyderabad police and they say no cases related to abuse or harassment arising from dating apps have been booked in the city. Raghu Veer, Additional Deputy Commissioner of Police for Hyderabad Cyber Crime Division, says that they have never received any complaints that arose through dating apps. "Most of the social media complaints we receive are the ones on harassment done over Facebook,” he says.

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