There is a dilemma with dating apps that we need to address. Strong relationships require vulnerability, authenticity and trust, but responsible dating app use demands security and safety. How do you build a trusting relationship from an app that could potentially introduce you to dangerous people?

Recently in Wisconsin, a man was accused of being a serial dating app predator, allegedly drugging and stealing from several women, as reported by the New York Post. Research by BYU professor Julie Valentine and a team of researchers, published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, also uncovered alarming evidence that “sexual predators use dating apps as hunting grounds for vulnerable victims.” Utah sexual assault victims’ exams from 2017 and 2020 show that “14% of the 1,968 rapes committed by acquaintances occurred during an initial meetup arranged through a dating app,” according to BYU University Communications.

But despite these dangers, people do find love in many forms on dating apps. Whether it be a romantic relationship or a friendship, dating app success is not uncommon. According to Pew Research, about 12% of U.S. adults say they have been in a committed relationship with someone they met on a dating app, and 57% of dating app users report having a positive experience. The New York Times recently reported on the success of dating apps in China amid COVID-19 lockdowns and anxiety around the virus. There, many dating app users seem “less interested in romance than in meeting friends.” Dating apps fill the gap in social interaction brought on by the loneliness pandemic.

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Valentine, speaking to BYU University Communications, points out that “It used to be that people would meet through mutual friends or at work or school, and there was a degree of vetting that went in place before dating. Dating apps have completely taken away that process.” So dating app users take on an added responsibility of vetting potential dates before the first in-person meetup — a difficult thing to do with only a few pictures and someone’s self-proclaimed bio of skills and interests.

But there are things you can do to stay safe while still playing the dating game.

Dating app users should be cautious about how much data they give out on a dating app. As reported by the Guardian, linking your social media account can reveal personal information that you may not want a stranger to know. The Guardian suggests using photos for your dating profile that are different from your social media accounts so that a reverse image search won’t give out your social media information. Do not give out your contact information, physical address, financial information or sensitive personal information on a dating app.

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If a dating app interest is deemed worthy of an in-person meetup, always tell a trusted friend where you are going and consider sharing your location on your phone with that friend. Meet in a public location, not at either of your places of residence. Consider making the first date a double date with friends you trust in a public space. When I was in college, every time I went on a first date with someone I didn’t know well, I had a safety plan. If the date felt unsafe, I had an on-call friend who I could text an emoji to and they would immediately call me with an excuse for me to leave the date in a nonconfrontational way.

In addition to what you can do to stay safe, dating apps have built-in safety features. Many dating apps such as Tinder, Bumble and Hinge use AI software to filter messages for malicious or illegal activity, verify user identity, screen and blur out nude images and check in with app users after a first date. Utah Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, is also sponsoring a new bill titled “Online Dating Safety Requirements” that would protect users from fraud and encourage dating app providers to perform criminal background screenings on users of their apps.

Dating is about building connections, but dating apps have changed the landscape, making it unwise to be too trusting too soon. Navigating this new landscape requires a balance of caution, patience and a little help from friends.