You may find your soul mate through cyberdating, but it's wise to take precautions that protect your privacy and keep you safe.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

July 22, 2004

3 Min Read
  • Never leave or go home with your cyberdate. You can extend the meeting to dinner, or anything else in a public place. But PUBLIC is the operative word here. Remember when your mother told you never to get into a car with a stranger? Don't go home with one, or to a private place of any kind, at least not for a while. Take this slowly. Even if you're not used to taking dating slowly, this is special.

Google yourself. If you cyberdate, it's a good idea to regularly "Google yourself." By searching Google.com for your online screen names, and any other information you would share with an online romantic partner, you can make sure the information is not being shared with others. Make sure you search for images at Google, as well. (See "Here's To Happy, Safe Holidays".)

Report any attacks or threats to law enforcement. If things go wrong, whether you followed my rules or not, don't be embarrassed to go to the police. Give them all the facts. If you don't report the person you meat, he or she in all likelihood will attack again. You're allowed to say "no" and have it respected. If anything goes wrong, it's not your fault. Most states now have cyberstalking and harassment laws that would cover most online threats as well.

Don't be embarrassed to insist on following the rules. Your safety is the most important thing. Anyone who cares about you will respect you for being careful. Safe cyberdating, like safe sex, is just smart! Although we hope that the person you meet online is your true soul mate, recognize that cyberdating is like defensive driving. Even if you're the best driver in the whole wide world, there are all those other drivers out there to worry about.

Make sure you're using a reputable online dating service. Most will give you a free trial period. Make sure that you can use all their service during that free trial. Make sure they use anonymizers or re-mailers, to mask your real E-mail address. Some people at the end of the free trial give out their real E-mail address to allow the other person to find them when the trial is over, but again, make sure it's an E-mail account you have set up just for this purpose.

If someone makes you uncomfortable, report it to your cyberdating service right away. Make an electronic copy of the communications, and keep them stored on your computer or on a disk so they can be checked out. (They will need the headers of all E-mails, which is why a printout won't suffice.) Many cyberdating services also have a blocking feature to keep you from being harassed by someone.

If you have a problem with your service, contact it. If it won't help you, contact WiredSafety.org. The organization doesn't endorse any services but has found that Match.com and Matchmaker.com seem pretty reputable and have a safe cyberdating area.

If you're being cyberstalked or harassed, get help!. WiredSafety is one of the leading cyberstalking help groups online. If you need its help, send an E-mail to their Cyberstalking and Harassment Division at [email protected]. If the cyberstalker knows where you work or live, contact the local police right away. Also, don't respond when the stalker contacts you. Just ignore them...most of the time they go away.

Continue to the sidebar: "Dating Online: The Basics"

To discuss this column with other readers, please visit the Talk Shop.

To find out more about Parry Aftab, please visit her page on the Listening Post.

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