Dating online has now become of the trends along with other online activities. As not even human relationships have been spared from the effect of the internet and social media, human affairs of friendship, socializing, marriage, dating which are personal and have so far been managed personally since ages are not being managed by internet very much alike other works and affairs. As more and more users are signing up to different dating sites and apps, the concerns which arise in the use of this medium are also rising. Romance scams and frauds have become one of the most widely prevalent cybercrimes today.
The rising number of victims to such scams is an issue of great concern and needs to be addressed at the earliest. The incidents go highly unreported and the victims suffer from the emotional trauma of having been cheated by the one they thought to be their companion. Regulations for the online dating companies are required along with awareness among the users about the potential threats of the use of these online dating sites and apps. There is a need for specific guidelines or legislation to regulate the online dating system.
KEYWORDS: Online dating, Relationship, Cybercrime, Trauma, Regulation
India is a country with strong ethical values and culture that has been abided by the Indian society till date. When it comes to dating, Indian society at large has a conservative view over the same. Though gradually with the influence of the rest of the world, the west, in particular, the norms relating to dating have been relaxed. Today parents permit their children to seek partners rather than the age-old method of arranging their marriages. This has led to the concept of dating gaining ground. As technology has not failed to leave an impact over any arena, so it has not spared the dating life too. The concept of dating online is something we are well aware of, as one among the three people today, is dating online. It’s not uncommon to hear the names – Tinder, OkCupid, Trulymadly, Happn, Woo, Hinge, Aisle, Badoo, etc. by people around you.
HOW DID ONLINE DATING GAIN GROUND?
As dating became popular in India, the different means to find a date also evolved. Today, where everything is sought after instantly at the touch of a button, where things have been eased out to the extent that anything is available from any corner of the world as per the demands, people have become accustomed to this trend. Time and space have been brought at the disposal of the individuals. It is this tendency, developed in recent years, that has promoted online dating too. The concept of dating is to find a suitable match by checking the compatibility with the person. Dating apps have now made that process so much simpler by providing a platform where the person can look for a suitable match without taking any pains.
What these dating apps provide is an opportunity to meet new people, interact with them, get matched according to the compatibility. Most of these apps provide access to the profiles of the people who are in your vicinity, you get to have an insight into their interests, their pictures and their preferences and accordingly you can find the perfect match without having to resort to any pain.
The quintessential factors which have led to the widespread use of dating apps are that these apps offer anonymity, availability and a different form of interaction and getting matches instantly.
Some want to keep their identity anonymous while using this medium of interaction which the apps provide. Availability of partners in the locality or vicinity is another great reason that prompts people to prefer this medium. Many people are not so comfortable at meeting others in person at the first instance; they would prefer knowing the person first and checking whether they would be comfortable in the presence of such other person. They find this way of interaction better. The facility of getting matches instantly is the strongest motivating factor as people have already developed the tendency to get things served at the touch of the button. Human relationships have not been spared from this effect, friendship through social media, marriages through marriage bureau and sites and dating through online dating apps have become the order of the day.
For many people, loneliness is one reason which leads them to the use ofonline dating apps; they seek comfort and someone who can hear them as they find themselves alone in actual life. They try to seek companionship through online dating by finding a match for themselves. Some people are isolated from the society as they just do not fit into the usual norms and they build their lives on online platforms.
Online dating has become a medium through which people get to experience new and exciting means to pursue romantic endeavours. People today date online for a number of reasons, some do it for fun, some look for a meaningful relationship while few are only looking for sex. As stated earlier, technology has not spared any part of our lives including human relationships. The way we establish relationships is so much affected and completely moulded by the effect of technology. With the presence on the virtual world gaining ground, the personal touch has long been forgotten. People today not just manage and look after their work or professional life with the use of devices but also their personal relationships.
Online dating provides an individual to meet someone with similar preferences tastes and located in the same area or nearby. It becomes quite easy to find an appropriate match. With most of the dating apps which require a questionnaire asking their likes and dislikes, the profiles which are compatible find each other. The profile of the person is an insight into the person at a quick glance. These apps provide all the convenience required to find a quick suitable match.
CONCERNS IN ONLINE DATING
While creating profiles on the dating apps people share information which is not always true and fake many times. Many conceal their real identity and put up fake information and pictures. Most of them are concerned about their safety as they do not find the means reliable. People lie about their marital status, relationship status, personal information etc while dating online.
The major concerns which worry the users of the dating apps are, their device being infected with malware, etc through the dating platform; they falling prey to people who would use their information against them for extortion, blackmailing etc; their information being wrongly used to track them, hack their accounts, damage their relationships, reputation etc.
These concerns have been actually faced in reality by many people while dating online. They have faced different threats by the misuse of the information they provided and met all together different person then what the profile showed. There have been many IT security incidents too which the people using online dating apps have faced if compared to those who didn’t.
Today, scammers do not fail to take advantage of any prospective situation, so when it comes to romance, they find a way to it through online dating apps by pretending to be the prospective companion and then tricking the users into believing them. They contact the victims on these apps, creating fake profiles, build trust over days and trick them to supplying money for some reason over any convincing story. They would generally claim to be from overseas and then ask money for different emergencies.
These romance scams do not just cause a financial loss to the victim but devastates him/her emotionally. He/She is tricked by someone whom he/she believed to be his/her loved companion. The victims are so much affected emotionally; they suffer from anger, shame, depression, shock etc. Many of them undergo Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
There are different types of dating scams such as, extorting money by gathering up video recordings and pictures or other material depicting sexual content, targeting LGBT community as they are reluctant to seek protection, extorting money through convincing stories etc..
Most of the people do not even seek protection or even tell anyone about the scams they face, the majority of the cases go unreported. The instances of dating scams are numerous of which mention needs to be made of the Russian Biwi con case. An older man was befriended by a young beautiful lady, and this woman did not live in India, showed her desire to visit India over time. Due to unavailability of funds, she was not able to do so and the man felt sorry for her and transferred the money to facilitate her travel to India. The transfer of the amount was also made through western union and not a bank account preventing tracking of receipt. Later the woman blackmailed the man threatening to tell his wife if he did not transfer more funds.
A very common scam includes the scammer asking the victim to connect through webcam and asking the victim to disrobe and perform intimate acts and recording it for extorting money on the pretext of exposing the recordings.
The LGBT community is targeted by the scammers easily as they are called on dates and then drugged, robbed off money and beaten. Sometimes these people are threatened by the scammers to meet their demands, physically assaulted etc. Before the amendment in the Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, the situation was even worse. They feared getting arrested by the police earlier, but even after the change, the fear of public shaming makes them more vulnerable than other users.
EFFECT ON TEENAGERS
The teenagers in particular who spend all their days’ moments completely involved in their electronic devices, are most adversely affected by the online dating system. This makes them believe how shallow, casual and faceless relationships are bereft of any emotional intimacy and stability. They are hooked on social networks; find it easier to interact online, and consider their social lives limited to the online realm. Sexuality is displayed without emotional intimacy; they share nudes, engage in sexting, strip each other naked on video calls, etc.
Most of the people are engaged in dating for fun and sex without any sort of commitments from either side. A recent study by Kaspersky showed that about half of the population i.e., 48% using online dating used it for fun, while 13% were using it only for sex.
Teenagers are led to develop beliefs and ideas of casual and meaningless relationships which are shallow and are meant for short terms without any commitments. This leads to morally shallow individuals forming the society.
There are no laws which particularly regulate the online dating system in India. A report by FBI’s cybercrime revealed that the second most costly category of crime after compromised business email is that of confidence and romance fraud.
The existing Information Technology Act 2000 facilitates lawful digital, electronic and online transactions with the objective of preventing cybercrimes. Romance scams are cybercrimes and remedies can be sought under the purview of the act regarding cybercrimes. The online dating portals can be held liable under the act as it incorporates liabilities associated with the intermediaries.
A law which would impose obligations on the online dating industry for complying with minimum digital protection standards to prevent fake profiles and identity thefts would be appropriate. The online dating companies should even engage in putting up scam warning advertisements on their sites to create awareness as well as precautions from falling prey to the scams. In the absence of any law, the government can issue guidelines which the online dating companies will be required to follow.
The government should on its part spread awareness regarding such scams and the vulnerability of the victims on such dating sites, this would make the users aware and at the same time, the victims would come forward and report such incidents without hesitation.
The effective handling of the issue would consist of its prevention, monitoring of the abidance to the guidelines and law, remedies in case of the occurrence of the incident. The prevention can be facilitated by spreading awareness and issuing guidelines and framing laws specifically dealing with the issue at hand. The remedies can be recourse to legal action against the perpetrator of the crime. In addition to that, providing medical assistance to the victims who undergo Post Traumatic Disorders.
As the online dating system has made a place in the society for various reasons, the fact that its use would only multiply with time cannot be denied. Therefore it becomes imperative that the regulation of the use of these apps and sites be brought into force. The potential risks and dangers that lurk in the use of these sites cannot be neglected and the protection of the consumers is the utmost duty of the companies and also the government. The users should also exercise caution in the use of these sites and apps and not be an easy prey to the predators.
Author – Ayushi Raghuwanshi , Amity Law School