Technology

HowAboutWe’s Mobile App Is Going International

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HowAboutWe is about to take over the world - literally.

The dating service has announced the launch of the first internationalized versions of its iOS application. Though the web-based version of HowAboutWe already had international users, the app was only available in English, significantly limiting its reach. Now it's available in 15 new languages that cover more than 30 countries, including France, Russia, and Japan.

And it gets even better. The company says it's also making all features in the mobile application available for free to international users. (Sorry, America, you still have to pay. Premium features for United States-based users, like unlimited membership, will continue to cost between $8 and $35 per month.) In addition to full access to all of the exclusive features offered to American HowAboutWe members, global users will also enjoy:

  • Browsing date ideas suggested by local singles
  • Finding people who want to meet in person
  • Checking out profiles and full-screen photos
  • Posting their favorite nearby places as date ideas - instantly
  • Seeing who's online now, nearby

When asked why the company was choosing to offer services entirely for free, HowAboutWe's head of PR, Jade Clark, explained that their primary concern is to extend their reach as a brand and become an established figure in a new market before weighing monetization options.

HowAboutWe isn't just planning to bring its emphasis on real-world activities to the international stage. Half a million members are signed up for HowAboutWe for Couples. When asked about mobile and international plans for the couple's product, Clark adds that the company is working to expand their mobile offerings and plans to make some major announcements in the early parts of 2014.

To celebrate the launch of the app around the world, co-founder and co-CEO Aaron Schildkrout posted a guide to his blog called "10 Things You Need To Know Before Internationalizing Your App." I'll spare you the details, because many of them are quite technical, but Schildkrout did speak of the challenges that come from language barriers and different cultural expectations. His final piece of advice is something we can all understand, regardless of your location: "It will always take 3x longer than you think!"

I'm intrigued by this new development. Just think of all the opportunities for cross-cultural connections that might now be possible. Imagine being an American tourist in a foreign land, connecting with locals (and possible tour guides) using the same dating app you're already familiar with. It could add a whole new dimension to travel.

For more on this service you can read our HowAboutWe review

Privacy & Online Dating: The Majors

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Are you concerned about your privacy when you use online dating sites? EFF is, and you should be too.

What is EFF? EFF is the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an organization dedicated to confronting cutting-edge issues defending free speech, privacy, innovation, and consumer rights in today's digital world. Of course, no discussion of today's digital world would be complete without a conversation about online dating sites. When EFF examined eight popular online dating sites to see how well they safeguard user privacy, they found that the majority of the sites tested did not take even basic security precautions.

We already took a look at how well the two most popular free dating sites, Plenty of Fish and OkCupid, performed on EFF's tests, and the results were less than stellar. Now the question is: does paying for a dating service guarantee better protection of your privacy? Let's take a look at how major dating sites eHarmony and Match stacked up against the freebies...

Neither Match nor eHarmony uses HTTPS, standard Web encryption, by default. By failing to use HTTPS, these sites expose their users to eavesdroppers when accessed from shared networks. All it takes is free software such as Wireshark for someone to access data that is transmitted in plaintext. This is potentially worrisome on any website, but it's particularly distressing on dating sites where information of a sensitive nature is routinely posted.

The next factor tested by EFF was whether or not the sites are free of mixed content. Mixed content is a problem that occurs when the site is primarily secured with HTTPS, but delivers part of its content over an insecure connection. Even if a page is encrypted over HTTPS, it may still be possible for an eavesdropper to access portions of the page if it displays mixed content. In some cases, EFF warns, a sophisticated attacker could even rewrite the entire page. Both eHarmony and Match contain mixed content.

EFF also tested whether the sites use secure cookies or HSTS. Failing to use secure cookies, which both eHarmony and Match are guilty of, can expose users to session hijacking. HSTS (HTTPS Strict Transport Security) can be used to request the use of HTTPS when communicating with a specific website. The user's browser will remember this request and automatically turn on HTTPS when connecting to the site in the future. Once again, both Match and eHarmony failed to employ HSTS.

Finally, EFF investigated the sites' policies on deleting data after the closure of a user's account. eHarmony's policy was deemed "vague," while on Match.com the fate of a user's information wasn't discussed at all.

So, where privacy is concerned, does it pay to pay? According to EFF, the answer is no. There is no significant difference between free dating sites and paid dating sites when it comes to privacy and security practices.

Privacy & Online Dating: The Freebies

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Smart online daters are concerned about their privacy no matter what online dating site they use, but those less familiar with Internet privacy issues might assume that major dating sites like Match.com and eHarmony.com are safer than their free counterparts. Does "free" automatically mean unsafe? Does "paid" automatically mean secure?

EFF, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an organization dedicated to defending your rights in the digital world, conducted an investigation into the privacy and security practices of major online dating sites to see just how well they're safeguarding your privacy. Two of the sites they tested, Plenty of Fish and OKCupid, are the Web's most notorious free dating services. How well did they stack up against the paid competition?

Neither Plenty of Fish nor OkCupid uses HTTPS by default. For the less tech-savvy among you, HTTPS is standard Web encryption used to secure websites (often those that allow financial transactions). Without HTTPS, users can be vulnerable to eavesdroppers when they use shared networks like those found in coffee shops or libraries.

EFF also found that neither Plenty of Fish nor OkCupid is free of mixed content, meaning that even if certain elements of the site are generally secured with HTTPS, other portions of its content are served over an insecure connection. Again, it may be possible for an eavesdropper to see the images on a page or other content when the page is not properly secured.

EFF also tested whether Plenty of Fish and OkCupid use secure cookies. A "cookie" contains authentication information that helps the site recognize you and allows for easy access to information in your account. It's cookies that allow you to return to a site and be logged in without having to reenter your password. If the cookies are not secure, an attacker can trick your browser and use your cookies to take over your session with the site.

The last thing EFF tested was whether or not the site deleted your data after your account was closed. Both Plenty of Fish and OkCupid were vague about the details. After looking at the sites' privacy policies and terms of service, EFF could not find a clear description of what happens to a user's data after deleting their account.

Plenty Of Fish says "We keep your information only as long as we need it for legitimate business purposes and to meet any legal requirements," but who knows what that really means? OkCupid says they "may still retain certain information associated with your account for analytical purposes and recordkeeping integrity," as well as for a host of other things.

Things look pretty bad for Plenty of Fish and OkCupid when it's all laid out like that, but how do they compare to other dating sites? Stay tuned to find out...

Privacy & Online Dating: Data Collection And Your Digital Trail

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Unless you've been living under a rock lately, you've gotten an earful about the National Security Administration's efforts to monitor your phone calls and online activity. Sure, that's scary stuff, but it's only one piece of the privacy puzzle. What about all the other organizations you're voluntarily giving information to? Just about everywhere you go online, you're leaving a digital footprint and odds are you have no idea who's seeing it.

So, who exactly has access to the personal information you put online?

To answer that question, NPR investigated one of the greatest sources of personal data on the Web: online dating sites. Most users don't hesitate to fill out the lengthy questionnaires on sites like Match.com because they believe it's the best way to find a compatible partner. But when NPR sat down with Ashkan Soltani, a digital privacy specialist who used to work at the Federal Trade Commission, he showed exactly how unprivate personal information can be.

Soltani set up a fake account on OkCupid to demonstrate how private companies track what users are doing online. He selected the "Often" options under the questions about drinking and drug use, then launched two software programs - Collusion and MITM Proxy - to get a look at what goes on behind-the-scenes.

The Collision program revealed that almost 50 companies were tracking Soltani's computer as he browsed OkCupid, most of which were either advertising firms or companies that collect data to sell to ad firms. The MITM Proxy program exposed the kind of information those companies were receiving from OkCupid. Some got basic data, like age and gender, but others obtained much more personal details. In fact, least one learned that Soltani uses drugs "often."

Of course, it's not just OkCupid that collects personal data, and every online dating site has an explanation for why they do it. Data collecting, they argue, allows them to personalize their service in order to improve user experience. As you search for dates online, your dating site gets a better idea of the kind person you're looking for. The site becomes "smarter," and its matching algorithm becomes better at refining your results.

To some, it's creepy. To others, it's helpful. What is clear is this: there isn't much that can be done about it, unless you choose the non-option of staying off the Internet completely. All that's left is to think carefully about what data you choose to share, and to remember that private information is rarely private online.

Surprise! You Could Be Committing A Federal Crime On Your Online Dating Profile

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If I'm going to be arrested for committing a federal crime, I at least want it to be a federal crime I knew I was committing. Preferably something really badass, like a complicated art heist from a major museum.

What I don't want to go to jail for is my online dating profile, because when all the other prisoners talked about the crazy crimes they got locked up for, there's no way I could say "online dating."

All joking aside, apparently there's an actual chance that you could be committing a federal crime by - wait for it - lying on your online dating profile. Which means basically everyone is now a criminal. Here's what's going down...

Will Facebook Graph Search Finally Make Online Dating Cool?

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That's the question posed by Cliff Lerner, founder and CEO of SNAP Interactive, in a recent article on HuffPost.

Personally I like to think we've already decided that online dating is cool, but maybe I'm just trying to make myself feel better. Maybe the rest of the world isn't as on-board with the idea as the social and professional circles I run in. For those people, Lerner says, the launch of Graph Search could make all the difference.

When Graph Search was announced, online dating sites went a little bit insane. Some feared that because it could meaningfully connect singles through friends and common interests, it would mean the end of traditional dating sites. It even includes the option to search by "relationship status," making it clear that dating is a key element of the new feature.

"The concern," Lerner explains, "is that singles will gravitate more and more towards Facebook for their online dating needs since Facebook already has superior data and profiles and now is offering enhanced friend and interest-based search and matching functionality for singles."

But fear not, online dating sites, because Lerner also says that line of thinking "couldn't be more wrong."

Facebook's Graph Search could be a valuable opportunity for dating sites. Currently only 1 in 5 singles visit a dating site each month, and the biggest opportunity dating sites have for growth is to crush the stigma associated with them once and for all. The best way to get that remaining 80% of singles to log onto online dating sites is to make it seem as normal as possible.

Enter Graph Search, which subtly blends online dating functionality into the Facebook experience. With the addition of "social dating" to Facebook, a brand new crop of singles is being introduced to online dating in an understated, but effective, way. And once they get a taste of what it has to offer, there's a good chance they'll turn to online dating sites to get more out of the experience.

Voila - Facebook Graph Search might actually be doing the online dating industry a favor, not driving a nail into its figurative coffin.

"It's only a matter of time before the online dating industry says a huge "thank you" to Facebook for removing the online dating 'stigma,'" writes Lerner, "and thus enabling millions of more singles to enter the 'online dating' market, which will ultimately expose many new millions of singles to destination dating sites."