Teenagers — as young as 13 — who use Tinder are flirting with danger, police warn.
Tinder, an online dating app, has a separate platform specifically for users aged 13 to 17 years old. The app limits users' potential matches to those younger than 18, but police warn that this still puts them at risk for sexual predators.
The profile information, including photograph and age, is voluntary information. There is no way of verifying if users have provided their real age.
Now, Tinder is used by thousands of teens as young as 13. Susan McLean, Australian cyber safety expert, said that teenagers use the controversial dating app to brag to friends the number of people who want to go on a date with them.
Meeting online sex predators is not new. McLean said Tinder is a geolocation app that gives away the user's precise location at a given time. It is not safe to be using the app.
"Adults have been murdered after meeting on Tinder," said McLean.
Jon Rouse, operations manager of Task Force Argos in Australia, shares the same sentiments. He said that online dating apps have become an avenue for pedophiles to meet and groom children whom they are going to victimize.
Rouse also called on parents to be more vigilant about their kids' online activities.
Detective Inspector Michael Haddow of the NSW Child Exploitation internet unit said that parents should maintain open communication with their kids, so the kids would know what precautions they should take when using the app.
Police warn that teenagers and adults alike should exercise caution.
"Everyone, not just teenagers, should be careful about meeting people they have only ever engaged with online," Haddow said.
Michael Wilkinson, director of security at Nuix Asia-Pacific and former digital forensic specialist with the NSW Police, agreed that dating apps have no strong age-identification mechanism to prevent users, especially teenagers, from falling victim to sexual predators.
Dating apps catered to teenagers do not only raise concern about teens flirting with dangerous individuals online, but also about how these apps become a form of social acceptance.
Deborah Clay of Australian Radio National said dating apps are becoming a gauge of whether teens are deemed attractive to others.
"What about the overarching message that it sends to kids that you swipe and it makes a judgment?" Clay asked.
Although Tinder currently has only 14 million users compared to the 1.35 billion on Facebook, people are now starting to spend more time on the dating app than on FB. Statistics from both apps showed people spend 90 minutes swiping on Tinder compared to 40 minutes browsing through their FB news feed.
Photo: Denis Bocquet | Flickr