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Gen Z help location apps flourish but is our privacy at risk?

Dating apps and COVID-19 tracking services have seen huge growth this year – particularly with Gen Z and Millennials – but should we be concerned about the privacy risks?  

It’s official – a second wave of COVID-19 is here in full swing.

With no real end to the pandemic restrictions in sight, more of us are turning to online platforms and new location-based apps to connect with others than ever before. Dating apps are booming, small start-ups are enjoying growth, and more unique and niche companies are popping up to provide us with fresh opportunities to meet new people.

But as more of us give up our location data to a bigger pool of companies we’re also giving away more of our data, which could have implications for our privacy further down the line. Coronavirus and all of its annoyances is redefining our idea of ‘normal’, and we could easily see increased infiltration into our personal lives as brands hop onto this sudden and unexpected opportunity.

Newfound popularity means profit potential – and it’s a mix of our personal information and premium subscriptions that provide most of the cash.

Pandemic has encouraged dating app growth

Dating apps in particular have seen significant spikes in paying memberships this year.

Match Group Inc, the parent company for multiple dating sites and apps including Tinder and OKCupid, reported an unexpected rise in profits during the second quarter of this year. It made over $103 million USD in profit and is predicting at least $2.3 billion USD in total revenue for all of 2020. That’s serious cash, especially considering many industries have shrunk as a result of the pandemic.

Obviously, a big reason for dating apps taking on new users is that nearly every viable real life activity or event has been cancelled or delayed indefinitely.

You can’t just ask someone out to a gig or an evening cinema trip anymore and even if you do manage to book in somewhere, you’ll be bombarded with tracking QR codes to scan, hand sanitizers, one way systems, face masks, and an abundance of other necessary procedures. It’s all important, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t kill the romance of a date.

Tinder, Bumble, and other big name dating apps have offered solutions to this problem that have helped to keep new relationships alive. Video chat features have become standard, meaning users can now interact face-to-face via their smartphone camera without having to necessarily meet up in person.

It’s not an entirely adequate replacement for the real thing of course, but it’s helped to bring more users on board during a time where going outside is no longer a viable option. If those profit numbers are anything to go by they’ve worked too.

Lockdown has provided business for small start-up apps

Small start-up apps that utilise your phone’s location in novel ways have begun to pop up frequently this year too.

Take Pickle, for example, an app that lets you reach out to anyone nearby to partake in activities, chill out sessions, or anything in between. It’s enjoyed a surge of 350,000 new users in 2020 alone and is an excellent way to organise hangouts – despite local lockdown and social distancing rules.

Another new app called ETHOS uses your location to connect you with local organisations and individuals who are passionate about social change and activism causes. Small scale dating apps like Justlo similarly utilise your location data to connect you with nearby users, while others like Duby are designed specifically to get local stoners together. I suspect that one probably doesn’t fly too well with the UK government though.

There is clearly a growing appetite for platforms that can bring individuals together based on compatible interests and the pandemic has only accelerated this shift. We’re now reliant on these apps to meet new people, as 2020 has made it nearly impossible to authentically make friends or bump into strangers that you share similar vibes with.

Should we be concerned for our privacy and safety?

All these quirky apps are great for connecting with others but we should be mindful of just how much data we’re giving away to companies we may not be that comfortable or familiar with.

We’re already giving governments unprecedented access to our information for the sake of international safety with new COVID-19 tracker services, and we’re seeing civilian privacy rights erode in Asian territories. Countries such as Cambodia, China, Pakistan, and Thailand have introduced fever detection goggles and drones to monitor new curfew laws, with reports of civilian arrests should anyone not comply. The threat of Orwellian state infiltration is very real.

I’m not saying that the entire world will be thrown into a Big Brother dystopian nightmare just because a few people downloaded Tinder. These apps aren’t going to completely control your life or take away your civil liberties, but it’s best to be aware of just how much you’re allowing apps to know about you, especially small scale ones with less regulation.

Pickle doesn’t have any information on how it uses your location and it may well be selling off your data to earn money. These services are free, after all, so it’s worth remembering that your information is the return for many of these small scale apps without premium membership programmes. The ability to meet with others is enticing for Gen Zers particularly, but it doesn’t come completely risk free.

Plus, it goes without saying, but always remember have your wits about you when using these services. If you’re meeting up with someone in person that you were introduced to via a social platform, make sure you go with someone else or verify that the person is who they say they are. Catfishing continues to be a huge issue online and will only intensify when none of us can go anywhere properly.

So, be safe! Always be clued up on where your data goes, and make sure you’re swiping and browsing responsibly.