We live in a world full of digitized records. At some point, they’re inescapable: your bank account and hospital visits are digitized and any accounts or subscriptions will ask for personal data and then store that in a secure place online.
Unfortunately, ‘secure’ doesn’t always mean reliable. For example, Gary McKinnon hacked into US military databases to look for concealed evidence of UFOs in 2002. In 2014, 4chan users leaked 500 photographs of celebrities, mostly nude, and mainly of women. In 2015, Ashley Maddison, a dating site infamous for arranging affairs, was targeted by hackers who shared details of the site’s users. And now, in 2021, Japan’s biggest dating app, Omiai, has lost 1.7 million people’s details after an attack.
It’s easy to feel hopeless. Technology is all around us. We share sensitive personal data using laptops, smartphones, and yet we get no guarantee that these things are protected. It’s also ruining action movies: everyone would rather watch a film about top-secret agents hanging from a ceiling on a wire or breaking into MI5 to steal paper documents than some nerd coding for two hours from his basement.
It’s difficult to know what to do about it. Of course, companies try to keep data private – it’s in their interest just as much as their clients. Omiai’s share in the Net Market dropped by 19% after reports of the hack were released, and it would make sense for prospective users to feel much more reluctant to sign up for the service. As for existing users… Well, deleting their accounts after the breach won’t help them, but it would make sense for them to avoid the app in the future.
We should also keep the data we share on dating apps in mind. There are the obvious things, like age, name and address, and then much more private things, like our sexual orientation and bank details. There were concerns after the Ashley Maddison hack that people would find acquaintances who used the site for affairs and blackmail them. Once the culprits have extracted the sensitive data, where can it end up? I mean, we don’t even know what the hackers are after, and that’s extremely concerning.
Around the same time as the Omiai app was hacked another dating site, Manhunt, was also hit. This app caters towards the LGBT+ community, and 11% of its users had their data compromised. Again, we don’t know what hackers intend to do with their information, but given that homophobia is still a huge issue, and that some people choose to hide their sexuality to stay safe, this is incredibly dangerous. One of Manhunt’s rivals, Jack’d, was hacked in 2019, and what makes this worse is that users were allowed to send photographs via the app. They were assured the process was secure, and some people sent private images which were then leaked.
In our day and age cyber security is more important than ever. Companies should keep up with the recent developments in both encryption and secure data storage, as well as work towards implementing the newest know-hows in this field. Users also need to be aware of the potential risks, but as phones become the swiss-army-knife of the 21st century, trusting your device to be safe and secure is paramount. I hope that the future brings more news articles about new technology and safer data transfer and storage methods, and less headlines about someone’s nudes being leaked or identity stolen.