I am excited to share this with you that I spoke on a weekly program recently called “Coffee Break With Sabra” about an issue of great importance affecting you and the information that is online about you.
Listen to this interview and learn how to protect yourself and your information when using dating sites.
Sabras: Welcome to The Coffee Break with Sabras, where we answer burning questions, the questions you didn’t ask, didn’t know to ask, or were afraid to ask…we ask them for you. Each week we bring you another 20 minutes so you can get your answers and get back to having a productive and fabulous day. Today, we are here with Raj Goel. He’s the founder and CEO of Brainlink, a New York City-based IT consulting firm. He’s also an author, entrepreneur, an IT expert, and a public speaker. Raj Goel is globally known as the go-to man in cyber security and privacy law. He’s committed to educating individuals and organizations about online safety and how to protect their most important assets, people and data. His expert advice helps individuals, companies, and conglomerates navigate their way through the world’s ever-changing technology and increasingly complex IT compliance laws. He often appears in the media and at conferences worldwide to educate the public on cyber security and digital privacy–a subject he is passionate about. Welcome to the program Raj.
Raj: Thanks Sabras, good to be here.
Sabras: I am so thrilled to have you here, especially with a bio like that, I feel really great to have you on my program. And I know that today you are talking on a really pertinent topic, as you know I work with a lot of people and individuals and you’re talking about dating. And specifically your topic today is dating sites–members beware. So I thought it’d be a great thing to bring to the public and have someone like you talk about what’s going on with dating sites, and from you’re perspective what some of the dangers are. A lot of people are on these things–millions and millions of people. It’s a very big industry, and a lot of money is involved as well. So I’d like to hear your perspective and what you could share.
Raj: Yes, it’s a fast-growing industry from my perspective as a security researcher and a privacy activist, and somebody who works with the corporations around New York City, helping them address their security and privacy threats. Dating sites attract a researcher because they’re a great place to go and get data on people that you don’t get otherwise. Take for example some of the corporate bios you see on their websites, or look at LinkedIn. You get a very clean, almost antiseptic view of who they are. When you go to the dating sites, however, you learn so many other things about people including stuff that they probably never even revealed on Facebook: what they like to drink, their sexual activities, restaurants they go to. You get a complete profile of the person. On the attack side, it’s a great way to go and get information on a person. And then it gives us social engineering or other attack vectors. On the defense side, what I find frightening about dating sites is people reveal so much. And once they’re in a relationship, or they pull up the account or they stop paying the dues, the information never goes away. The second danger with dating sites is that 10-15 years ago there were maybe one or two; now there are thousands around the world, each one claiming tens of millions of members. Most people join between 1 and 15 dating sites when they’re actively looking. But, in reality, your data will be on several hundreds to several thousands of dating sites around the world, because every dating site start-up either buys, steals, or sucks in the data from other dating sites to bulk their member portfolio. If you look on television, especially in the evenings and late nights, almost every other commercial is for a dating site. They all claim millions of members. If you actually do some analysis, you’ll find there’s a lot of overlap because either people join multiple sites or because each site copies content from the others. As an example, let’s say on Match you put in you like chocolate. Great. And then you go and change your mind a few months later, You know what, I really don’t like chocolate, I like coffee. (I’m speaking on a fairly benign topic because we’re on radio and I don’t want to be nailed by the FCC.) So let’s replace coffee and chocolate with something a bit more embarrassing or a bit more adult. These changes on your primary site will be updated on the other clone sites, or the sites that stole the data or copied data from Match, they’re going up on all these sites. So we have found numerous cases of executives and business owners being compromised because they put something out there on their dating sites that they would normally not admit to in public, or on LinkedIn, or on their corporate bios, or the other people they were dating, or they thought they were having an online relationship with someone who wasn’t actually the intended partner. Dating services have been going on almost as long as people have been dating. This predates the internet, predates technology. The mail order bride of the 60’s and 70’s have never gone away. The immigration part has never gone away. All the Internet has done has accelerated the speed with which people can be scammed, and the number of people you can scam simultaneously.
Sabras: Wow. What you’re telling me is really scary because I’ve used dating sites myself, and it’s the furthest thing from my mind. I’d like to believe that people are honest and they want the same things. But I think you’re right, now that you mention it. It’s important to be aware and bring it to the forefront that there are people out there who aren’t trustworthy.
Raj: Not only that, as you said you have used dating sites yourself, and we all know friends who have. Did you ever go back and delete your profile on the dating sites once you’re done with the site, or you got in to a relationship?
Sabras: Highly doubtful.
Raj: Exactly. Most people never think about deleting data once they’ve released it, and the dating sites make it very, very painful, almost impossible. Let me rephrase that. They make it impossible to delete your data. You have to jump through a lot of hoops. And so as a result, people don’t bother, because it’s not in the dating site’s interest to have their membership count drop. They all brag, “We’ve got 50 million fish in the sea for you.” One of my examples is when Julian Assange was doing WikiLeaks, you couldn’t find out much about him online because he had left a very, very clean, low profile except for leaking the data, or helping publish leaked data. We found more embarrassing data by Julian Assange off of dating site than the rest of the internet combined. And this is happening in every country, in every jurisdiction. If I’m going to find something embarrassing about anybody, the first place I look is Facebook, and the second place is dating sites.
Sabras: It’s very fascinating because they think people let their guard down because they desperately want to find love and want to attract the right person. So it seems to make sense that people might be brutally honest, or just put stuff out there. Are there any other dangers, aside from people finding embarrassing stuff about you, are there other things that people would do with this data that could be harmful?
Raj: Absolutely. One of the gray areas of law and technology interception is in matrimonial cases. When couples are about to get a divorce, good attorneys say, “Give me all your social media credentials.” If the case is high profile or nasty enough, I’ve seen a lot of attorneys or their technologists go through and dig up data from Facebook, Twitter, dating sites. So, if you’re planning to go through a divorce and you found your spouse on a dating site, before you file the action go and scrub your data. Google search yourself, go through dating sites, look for your old profiles and look for your old user names, because you may want to remove some of the stuff you’ve posted online. In one particular case, the couple were in front of the judge and the woman claimed she was a very good mother and led a clean life. She wanted custody of the children and a higher monthly payment. However, the next day in court, the ex-husband’s attorney submitted exhibit A: her Facebook profile where she admitted to smoking marijuana. You never want to lie to a judge. And the other one I remember so well because again, it was a case where a couple was going through a very nasty divorce. Each of the spouses claimed that they were a very good parent. They were with the kids at a beach one day. And a day later, opposing counsel submitted in court Facebook and World of Warcraft logs proving that they had lied in court. While they claimed to be with the kids, they were actually out with their prospective boyfriend or girlfriend. The biggest danger with social media and other online venues, whether it’s Facebook or dating sites, is that data never goes away. In the U.S. and the U.K., the good news is rate of divorce has not changed in the last 10 years, and the same numbers of people are divorcing. But in the U.S., about a quarter of the divorces are citing social media as the cause, while in the U.K. it’s about a third. So, whether it’s LinkedIn, Facebook, or other dating sites, there’s a goldmine of data that can be used to bolster or destroy a case.
Sabras: That makes sense, because with the work that I do I speak to a lot of people who are going through a divorce, and it’s brought up from time to time, should I go on, should I try to find something. So you do have to be careful what you’re putting out into cyberspace. But you also mentioned deleting a profile and deleting the information, does it really ever go away? I thought that there was still a way for people to get access even if the information has been deleted–like Twitter for instance. A famous person might have tweeted something, and then they had a change of heart and removed it. Somehow people still find this stuff that they’ve tweeted and then tried to remove. Is that true with the information on the dating sites?
Raj: Correct. Data never gets deleted. The only thing you can do is try to overwrite the past with new information. So you can cannot go to sites like Match or Facebook and delete your profile, they won’t let you. They make you jump through too many hoops. And even when you click the delete button, they’re not actually deleting it. But what you may be able to do is go in and scrub your image, brush it off a bit. If you post sexual information, or your drinking habits, or your drug use habits online, maybe it’s time to take that data off by changing it or updating it. Treat your profile as you would your resume or your LinkedIn profile, or your bio on a corporate website. Don’t forget, data never goes away. Just because you’re not using it doesn’t mean it goes away. It will never get deleted. But the hope is that if you put up enough new data, the Internet will forget the old stuff. And it’ll take someone who is really, really dedicated to go find the old stuff. It’s just like real life. There’s stuff you and I did in high school which we hope our friends have all forgotten. At some point the record’s out there, but luckily for us we’re old enough that a lot of this is not photographed, time stamped, and logged somewhere like the kids today. And when I say kids, I mean the 10 year olds, the 12 year olds, the 15 year olds, the high school kids. Everything they’re doing is being photographed, indexed, and warehoused online. If they put a stupid photo on Facebook or on a dating site, or admit to smoking marijuana, it may cause them problems later in their lives. I’m sure we all did something like that in high school. But people in our age group have largely forgotten about it. But the kids today don’t have that luxury and this will potentially haunt them for the rest of their careers.
Sabras: And now that you mention it, this doesn’t just potentially affect younger peoples’ dating lives, but it could also affect their job searches.
Sabras: They’ve done silly things in high school or in college, and their future employers may have access to this information.
Raj: Absolutely. One of the earliest cases I remember goes back about 10 years, when MySpace was still around. Remember my MySpace, and Facebook was the new kid on the block? There were 2 or 3 stories that caught my attention, and one of them was this Harvard Law student who had a nearly perfect 4.0 GPA, honors, all that. He was applying for internships at white-shoe law firms in New York, and he got turned down by every one of them. Why? Academically he was brilliant and considered to be gifted, but his MySpace profile had this scrawny little white kid from the burbs talking about smoking blunts and talking to bitches. That was one of the earliest cases where social media profile was used to deny a job to someone. The other was in the late 90’s, early 2000’s and dealt with a 20-year-old intern working at a printing company in Seattle, Washington, in Redmond, near Microsoft’s campus. He was working for the printing agency that did all the printing for Microsoft’s marketing materials. He took a photo of a truck full of Mac G5’s being offloaded, put it up on his personal homepage and he wrote, “Even the evil empire uses G5’s.” Within 24 hours, not only was his internship terminated, his employer lost a 25-year-old contract with Microsoft because one of their interns had leaked data that Microsoft didn’t want made public. These are two of the oldest cases of social media being used in a negative manner. And I have a whole presentation online. You can go on YouTube, or go to our website, brainlink.com, and search for it. It’s called “What to teach your kids, interns, or employees about social media.” It talks about social media’s dangers and how kids have been kicked out of school, denied college admissions, lost jobs, lost internships, or gone to jail because of social media or dating site stupidity.
Sabras: Wow, that sounds great. We definitely need to check that out on YouTube.
Raj: I’ll send you the link after this interview.
Sabras: Thank you. In terms of dating sites though, do you have any advice or recommendations, other than being careful, as to how they should be used or not used, if people still want to use these sites?
Raj: Whether it’s dating sites, LinkedIn, or Facebook, don’t put anything online that you wouldn’t want to explain in court to a judge. We all do things that we might be embarrassed about or we’re not proud of–especially things we all do as adults or as kids that should never be spoken of inside of a courtroom. Don’t be so blatantly open online. There is no anonymity. If you’re in a smoky, crowded bar or restaurant, you can say things to your potential spouse or date–but don’t put it online, and don’t put in an email. Whatever you say now can and will come back and haunt you years or decades into the future. One more example: if you’ll recall, the early and late 90’s, were bombarded with Girls Gone Wild video ads. All those girls who were in college and who were showing off their assets, they never thought that in 2014 they’d be mothers in their late 30’s or early 40’s with kids. Now, all their kids can go online and see photos of mommy dancing topless or naked.
Raj: Kids don’t think about long term threats. I’m sure none of those girls ever thought, “Hey, in 20 years I’ll be 40 something with my teenage boy or teenage girl going online and finding all these naked videos of me.
Sabras: That’s true, there’s a lot of…
Raj: Just a long term threat most people don’t think about.
Sabras: Right. And it’s interesting because you’re also touching upon because the Internet and all of these sites can be great and useful, but when there’s younger people using it, there’s a danger because they’re not thinking of the future like we as adults tend to. It’s a very grown-up concept, it’s a grown-up thing to have to teach and educate your children on how to use things like that. I don’t even know how you would speak to your children. I know you mentioned that you have something out there to teach people how to do that. But it’s vital to explain to a child that they’re not invincible, because that’s exactly how children think, and that’s a really big challenge.
Raj: That comes down to good parenting and using common sense. As a father of two girls, I completey forbid the use of social media in our house. They are not authorized to go on social media, LinkedIn, Facebook, anything like that. My kids don’t even have their own email accounts. And the rule in my house is my kids will get their own social media accounts when I think they’re old enough to drive and can trust them with the family car. And the mistake I see a lot of people making is confusing the hot new technology, the cool thing everybody else is doing, with good parenting. Just because everybody else is doing it doesn’t mean your kids should be doing it. And just because it’s technically feasible doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. I have a new article coming out in a month or so in a major magazine about how we are destroying children’s privacy before they’re born. I remember when I had my kids, we were proud parents, but I don’t recall posting the due dates online. But today there are sites that will encourage parents, grandparents, whoever else to put up their “baby bump” photos, and their baby’s prospective date of birth. Parents and grandparents think nothing of publishing online, “My new baby daughter born today named Sophia Rose, last name, date of birth, the weight, city, state, and the parents’ names.” Without realizing it, they have just permanently destroyed their child’s right to privacy for life. We know the name, date of birth, city of birth, mother’s maiden name…what else do I need to open a credit account in child’s name? Social security number? That’s pretty easy to get in your local social security office. This is the real threat we see. Just because it’s cool, and you can put up the “we’re having a baby” website doesn’t mean you should. Just because you can put up “we’re expecting our baby on July 15th” doesn’t mean you should. This is the mistake people are making with technology It’s a tool, and in most cases it’s actually your enemy.
Sabras: Wow, well you definitely changed my view point on the use of social media and these sites. I know I’m going to be a lot more mindful based on what you’ve shared with us today. Is there a final piece of advice that you’re just burning to share with us before we say goodbye?
Raj: Yes, use common sense. Teach your kids about social media, while teaching yourself about social media. The Internet is no different than teaching your kids or yourself how to cross the street. We weren’t born knowing to look both ways; somebody had to teach us that. Use common sense, think before you post. And if there’s something you never want to explain to your grandmother, or the judge in court, don’t put it online.
Sabras: Love it. It’s really fabulous advice. Thank you so much Raj, it’s so fabulous to have you with us today. I knew you were going to have words of wisdom and great things to share.
Raj: My pleasure. Thank you for having me.
Sabras: Thank you. I want to thank our guest for being with us this week. Please join us again next week during our weekly Coffee Break with Sabras.