Tinder's Teen Version Raises Cyber Safety Concerns

12/04/2016 7:32 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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Teens accessing the controversial dating app Tinder via its underage section may become the target of sexual predators, experts fear.

According to information obtained by The Daily Telegraph, more schoolkids are accessing the app (which has a section dedicated for users aged 13 to 17) than singles over 35.

Given all that is required to set up an underage account is access to a Facebook profile, the NSW police and cyber safety experts have raised serious concerns regarding the ease at which people over 18 could pose as a teenager on the site.

"Here we have a situation where a cyber security breach is likely to occur, and where the prime objective is not money," Dr Malcolm Pattinson, cyber security expert at The University of Adelaide told The Huffington Post Australia.

"If a teenager is talking to someone who is not genuine and who could very likely be older, what’s [the perpetrator] in it for? It can easily be they are there to meet younger boys or girls.

"It's one of the few situations [of a cyber security issue] where money isn't the driving force. The goal would be sinister, and I imagine, sexual."

It is a concern echoed by Nigel Phair, Director of the Centre for Internet Safety at the University of Canberra.

"For adults -- and I don’t moralise for people who use Tinder or other dating apps -- they can do what they like," Phair told HuffPost Australia. "But for people under 18, it can facilitate potential grooming in such an obvious way.

"We’ve already got the phenomenon of Snapchat and sexting and other people taking naked photos, and this is just another platform to put that information.

"I think it's entirely foreseeable that a teenager could be groomed to do such things by someone who would purport to be from their generation and age but who actually wouldn't be."

teenagers on phone

There are concerns pedophiles could use the service to meet young boys and girls.

Tinder's geolocation service and compatibility with Facebook only adds fuel to the fire, with Phair noting pedophiles could easily access information such as the teenager's home or school address.

"It's a geolocation app, and that's highly concerning because predators are then able to find out where you are," Phair said.

"The fact Tinder also ties in with with other social media platforms such as Facebook, where a teenager might choose to list all sorts of information about themselves -- such as their school or sporting teams -- can really be a recipe for disaster."

Child and adolescent psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg didn't hold back when it came to his alarm regarding the potential adverse affects involvement with the app could have on adolescents.

"This dating site has been described by people I trust as a dangerous sexual minefield," Carr-Gregg told The Huffington Post Australia. "I do think the consequences of these sites of teenagers in later life can be devastating.

"You just don’t know where your pictures are going to end up, and the reality is you could, potentially, at 13 find yourself being groomed by a really serious pedophile.

"On top of that, you are giving them your location, which means you're pretty much setting yourself up to be stalked."

Carr-Gregg called upon Tinder to follow the examples of other dating sites and make the app available to over-18s only.

"I find it bizarre that legally, when you are 13, you are too young to smoke, drive, drink or have sex, yet under this strange system, a 13 year old is legally allowed to create a profile on Tinder which allows her to basically hook up with anyone in her local area," Carr-Gregg said.

"The idea of being 13 out there in cyberspace for anyone to contact is just bad. Put aside the fact this app destroys the whole social discovery process and romance and flowers and cards, which I loved, because I am a romantic.

"I think it could potentially be incredibly dangerous. There are seven million matches a day made on Tinder. The reality is this app -- which, by the way, is completely shallow, I mean it’s based purely on the psychical attractiveness of its users -- just reinforces and encourages an already unhealthy obsession with looks that plagues so many of my 13 year old patients.

"I am calling on Tinder to a) get rid of this stupid 13-17 year old section but also to b) make the age limit, in general, 18 plus.

"There are lots of popular dating apps and hook up sites that do that. While it’s not the only app in the category that permits younger users, in my opinion they should show a but more corporate responsibility."

In a response to The Huffington Post Australia's request for comment, a Tinder spokesperson said:

"Each Tinder profile is linked to the user’s Facebook account, which is how we verify our users identities. Users age 13-17 can only connect with other users in that same age range on Tinder. If we learn that a user has lied about their age on Facebook in order to interact with users outside of their appropriate age group on Tinder, we delete their profile immediately. As an additional safeguard, users cannot send messages to other users without mutual consent."

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