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Transparency in Online Dating: Possible, or No?

Imagine there’s no lying. It’s not easy, even if you try. Not when it comes to online dating. Over half of those who use dating apps or websites lie. They fudge things like height, weight, age and income. Certainly there are users (including those who are already married) who aren’t completely forthright about relationship status, […]

Imagine there’s no lying. It’s not easy, even if you try. Not when it comes to online dating.

Over half of those who use dating apps or websites lie. They fudge things like height, weight, age and income. Certainly there are users (including those who are already married) who aren’t completely forthright about relationship status, either. Research by Kaspersky reveals that a good portion of those who lie in their profiles do so because they want to look more appealing to potential partners. No surprise there, though there are those who suggest that deeper emotional forces are at work. More on that in a moment.

More concerning is the fact that faux profiles give cover to those who harass other users (especially women under the age of 35) or run scams. In 2018 alone, people reported losing  $143 million as a result of such plots, more than any other type of consumer fraud.

So what can be done to ensure greater transparency, as well as increased safety? The answers lie not just with the users, but with those who run the sites. Those answers are technological, and personal. And here’s an oddity, and a significant part of the challenge: Being somewhat less than transparent is one way of playing defense.

Understand that online dating has widespread appeal. Some 50 million Americans make use of the technology, or three out of every 10 adults. Some 23 percent went on a date with someone they met online, according to a 2020 Pew Research Center study, while 12 percent of those relationships ended in marriage or a long-term relationship.

So, success. Except see above.

Not only is transparency in short supply in online dating (as is sometimes the case in regular dating), but it’s not even expected. That is the conclusion of psychologist Jennifer B. Rhodes, at any rate. As she put it in a blog post:

(D)ishonesty drives fear and fear drives sexual desire. … In essence, there is not a real biological reason for us to stop lying to each other. We are used to the drama and equate the drama with sexual attraction and eventually love. It is really all we have been taught.

It takes large amounts of emotional intelligence, she adds, for someone to sift through the tall tales and achieve true intimacy. And precious few are capable of doing that in our culture.

On the surface, at least, it seems like transparency has been all the rage since so-called reality TV shows came into vogue in the early 1990s. That gave way, years later, to social media, where everybody seemed eager to share their deepest, darkest secrets. Robert C. Wolcott, a professor of innovation and entrepreneurship at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, wrote in a 2017 piece for Forbes that it reached the point where it seemed everyone was heeding the advice of retired U.S. admiral James Stavridis, whose leadership approach centered on the saying, “Build bridges, not walls.”

But transparency only goes so far, and leaves one grasping for answers when it comes to online dating. Is it simply a matter of a user going in with eyes wide open? Of doing his or her due diligence? Certainly there are those who would have you believe that. The FTC and other reputable sources list the warning signs of a romance scammer, like saying they live far away, becoming intimate quickly and asking for money. 

There are also online tools and software that can verify others’ identities, like RealMe or Date ID. Blockchain, the secure online ledge most often used with cryptocurrency, has also crept into the dating scene, as a method to exchange verifiable information, while also concealing some specifics.

This feeds into a larger point about who owns a person’s online data. That very question was once put to Netflix co-founder Marc Randolph, and while he said he didn’t know, he did add this:

“I believe every company has a responsibility to only use such data to improve the user’s experience. Not selling it to advertisers … but using it to make your experience better, to create more value for you.”

So information is good, but needs to be handled with kid gloves. And transparency is good, but only to a point. Consider, for example, those who believe a lack of transparency is part of the solution, not part of the problem. Kaspersky’s research indicates that 34 percent of female site visitors lie, to protect themselves from scammers and con men.

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