Online dating service Singles Around Me (SAM) recently released a GPS-enabled smartphone app that allows users to select whether they want to disclose their exact or approximate location, or whether they want to keep their location private. SAM was launched in 2010 and counts over one million users in 100 countries.
The approximate location feature offers users more privacy control over their account while still allowing them to find other singles in their area.
“Privacy issues need no longer impede users’ satisfaction with SAM,” said Hattie Sellick, SAM spokesperson in an email interview. “However, prior to the approximate location feature, some users were uncomfortable with allowing their exact location to be made public. SAM has solved this problem, although it has always been possible to turn off your location completely when using the app.”
The app uses the GPS capabilities of smartphones and plots the location of SAM registered singles onto a map. An individual’s exact location is displaced by two to three kilometres with the approximate location feature, allowing them the safety of privacy without limiting access to other singles’ accounts. While two or three kilometres is a small radius from an individual’s exact location, Sellick said it resolves the issue faced by many online dating service users who are trying to connect with a large pool of individuals in their area without making all of their personal information public.
“I believe our new privacy controls dramatically change the game and solve the problem that was holding back this new industry,” said Christopher Klotz, CEO of SAM, in a press release.
Some dating services go the route of the anonymous “missed connections” posting, where people submit a post describing an individual and where they were seen in hopes that the passerby will read about themselves and respond to the post. These missed connections columns are common in newspapers and have been replicated on websites such as LikeALittle and Spotted: UVic Library on Facebook, which was launched on Jan. 30. Users can post about strangers that have caught their eye without revealing their own identity in the initial post.
Peeked Interest, a now-defunct site that is posed for re-launch according to its homepage, took missed connections a step further. In the site’s first iteration, users would post a photo of the individual they admired, anonymously taken in a public space. The homepage explains a different model for the upcoming version of the service — one without photos.
Online dating services have come under fire for privacy breaches in the past.
Dating website eHarmony.ca was flagged by federal Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddard in 2011 for retaining personal information of individuals who terminated their accounts.
“Concerns about privacy policies and practices related to the use, retention and disposal of personal information by online dating sites are by no means confined to eHarmony,” said Stoddard in her 2010 Annual Report to Parliament, which was tabled in June of 2011. “A quick scan of other sites reveals that some do not even have privacy policies. Some that have privacy policies do not specify how they handle personal information after a user is no longer active on the site.”
The report recommends that dating services offer distinct options for sharing and controlling users’ information and urges individuals to safeguard their privacy on social networking sites.