Safety and Privacy on Happen Featured

Safety on Happn: This is How You Protect Your Dating Life

Last edited: May 12, 2020
Reading time: 14 minutes, 28 seconds

Happn dating app logoHappn is generally seen as a popular and ‘cleaner’ alternative to Tinder. It’ll get you in touch with people that you’ve already encountered in daily life, but wouldn’t normally talk to. Think of the other students at your favorite café on Friday night. With the app, you can easily start a conversation with people in your direct surroundings. The app was launched in 2014 and has over seventy million users worldwide.

When communicating with others on such a personal level, you don’t want to get into any trouble. That’s why it’s so important to take good care of your online privacy – especially on dating apps such as Happn. Don’t share too much information, hide your location when possible, and use a fake-location app if necessary. In this article, we’ll explain exactly how to stay safe while you’re online dating. We’ll also give you some information about the privacy risks of Happn and how these might affect you.

What Are the Privacy Risks of Happn?

Happn is a meeting app. Whenever you cross paths with another Happn user, you’ll see their profile on your app (as long as they fit your pre-determined set of preferences). As soon as there’s a match, which means you’ve both expressed interest in one another, you’ll be able to talk. It’s a fun system that allows you to get in touch with people in your direct surroundings. Just like with Tinder and Grindr, however, there are a couple of possible privacy risks you might want to consider.

Happn’s connection to Facebook

Facebook logoHappn allows you to create your account in two different ways: with your phone number or with your Facebook account. The option where you use your phone number was added in an update. Before that, you could only log in with your Facebook account. While some might find this useful, it also means that all your Facebook information will be linked to your dating profile.

Happn promises never to post anything on your Facebook page, nor will it send out notifications or invitations to friends. Happn says that Facebook Connect is only used to share common friends and interests with the Happn members you come across.

Even so, it’s important to take your online safety and privacy seriously. Unless you use your phone number to log in, your Facebook profile will be linked to your Happn account. This way, it is easier for Happn to prevent people creating fake profiles. However, when you’ve linked the two social media platforms, Happn will automatically take pictures from your Facebook profile to show on your dating profile. Users could then easily do a reverse image search to find out more about you and discover your Facebook profile. Because of the way Happn is set up, it’s hard to prevent this.

Facebook ID leak

Happn has had some serious security issues with users’ Facebook accounts in the past. In 2017 WIRED revealed that several dating apps, including Happn, didn’t properly protect the privacy of their users. The Facebook IDs of members were leaked, meaning that, aside from their first name, interests, and gender, their entire Facebook profile could be traced back to them. Happn went looking for a solution. The idea was to make their app work like a proxy. This way, only the information that was meant to be seen by others was publicly available.

Happn violated its own privacy policy by sharing personal data

Back in 2016, Happn was in trouble as well. At the time, the Consumer Council of Norway discovered that the company was violating its own privacy policy. Happn promises never to share your personal data with anyone else, but turned out to be doing this anyway. They sent data to an American marketing agency called UpSight. The shared user data included information about user preferences within the app, their full name, date of birth, employment status, and gender. Information on linked Facebook accounts was used as well. This meant that Happn was actively going against its own privacy policy, essentially lying to its users.

Another issue with the app was discovered at the same time. While Happn claimed that all user information and data would be deleted from their servers the moment an account was deleted, the opposite was true. Some of the cookies included in the installation and use of Happn weren’t deleted. In essence, Happn users weren’t able to delete the app off their phones completely. As a result, their information wasn’t completely deleted from Happn’s servers either.

Premium users know when you’ve ‘liked’ them

On Happn you get to see user profiles and either ‘like’ them, reject them or send them a ‘charm’. With a ‘like’ or ‘charm’, you show your interest in them. However, the other person will only get to see your ‘like’ if they choose to like you, too. If so, the two of you have a ‘crush’ and will be able to have a conversation on the app.

However, there are ways to get around this system. With a premium account, for example, you’ll get to see exactly who’s liked you and when. A lot of Happn users decide to get premium. In other words, your likes are no longer private to the people you swipe past on the app. This could be uncomfortable or awkward, if you’re afraid of being rejected or just generally don’t want anyone to know you like them unless they like you too.

Apart from the Premium function, an in-app game called Crush Time might also allow others to figure out your choices on the app. In the game, you get the chance to uncover which Happn users have liked you. The game shows you four different profiles, one of which has given you a ‘like’. If you can guess who this person is, you’ll automatically be matched and be able to talk to one another. The more often you play this game, the easier it will be to guess. Some profiles might keep returning, which probably means they’ve liked you. Although this is a very cumbersome way to try to figure out who has liked you, it isn’t impossible. If you’d rather keep your likes private until the other person shows a sincere interest in you, this is a risk you’ll have to consider.

Your location is no longer private with Maps

Map with locationIn 2018, Happn introduced a new feature called Maps. The feature enables users to see on a map where they came across other users. These locations are quite accurate: up to a 250 meter radius. The times at which you and the other person were in that location are also mentioned.

Maps makes it much easier to find people you’ve encountered in real life on the app. Have you come across a cute guy or girl at your favorite club? Simply use Maps to check whether he’s also got Happn. If so, you’ll be able to like him or her.

It’s a nice way to get in touch with others, but it also comes with a lot of security concerns. If you’re able to see exactly where and when you came across a Happn member, those users can see that information about you as well. This makes criminal activities like stalking very easy. In other words: people who decide to abuse the Maps function could become a real danger to your privacy.

Stalking: the Dangers of Happn

stalker in bushesThe privacy risks mentioned above can result in unwanted or even dangerous situations. So far, there have been very little reports on incidents that happened on or with the use of Happn. However, this doesn’t mean that Happn is completely safe. It’s always important to be aware of the possible dangers.

If Happn members use the app in a certain way, it could allow them to stalk others more affectively. Since Happn actively follows your (GPS) location and shows it to other users in certain circumstances, you’re at risk. The Sunday Mail has researched the use of Happn Maps. Within two weeks, the researchers ran into the same user seven times. Because they could see the exact location on the map, they could easily figure out where this user lived. According to cybersecurity experts, this could cause grave problems in the future. What if one of the strangers you happened to come across on Happn is suddenly standing at your front door?

How to Stay Safe on Happn

Dating apps always come with privacy risks, and Happn is no exception. You’re already taking a risk every time you tell strangers about yourself. Even so, it’s important to use Happn and similar apps safely, to limit those risks. Here are a couple of preventive measures you could take to increase your safety and privacy on Happn.

Don’t share too much

Perhaps this advice seems obvious, but many people still thoughtlessly share all sorts of personal information about themselves online. Always be careful with the things you share, whether it’s your age, full name, workplace, or other personal details. This is true for both the information you put on your Happn profile and the conversations you have with strangers. As far as your profile is concerned, the Happn app lets you hide your age, your ‘online’ status and the distance to other users.

Also limit the connections between your Happn profile and your other social media accounts. For example, Happn gives you the possibility to link your Instagram and Spotify accounts to your profile. This could be useful, since it allows other users to determine what kind of person you are and where your interests lie. However, it also creates a privacy risk: with a direct link to Instagram, any stranger can access all pictures you’ve chosen to share on there. Therefore, always consider closely what you’re sharing online, and always be aware of the connection between your Happn account and your Facebook profile, if you’ve used Facebook to set up your account.

Limit the information on Facebook

Facebook laptop anonymousTo ensure that Happn doesn’t have access to all of your Facebook information, you can do three things. Firstly, you can choose to link your account to your phone number instead of your Facebook, meaning the information on your social media won’t be connected to your dating profile. However, this is something you’ll have to make sure of the moment you set up your account. Later on, it’s much harder to change this.

Secondly, you could create a second Facebook account. This is possible if you use a different email address than the one connected to your ‘real’ Facebook page. Put as little information on this account as possible, then use it to create a Happn profile.

The third and final option is to limit the access Happn has to your Facebook information. Once you’re logged into Facebook, you can click ‘Apps’ in your settings. Find the Happn logo and click ‘delete’. Now log in on your Happn app. A pop up will appear on your screen, asking which information you’re willing to share. Here, you can select what the app is allowed to use. Make sure Happn can use as little of your personal information as possible, without making the app unworkable.

Turn off your location

For Happn to work as it was meant to, the app constantly has to know where you are. Only then will you be able to see other Happn users that have crossed your path. However, this often isn’t really necessary. In some cases, it could even become awkward. When you’re at a conference for work, for example, you wouldn’t want everyone there to see you’re on a dating app.

To prevent uncomfortable situations, you can turn on Happn’s invisible mode. With this mode, your profile won’t show up for other users for up to eight hours. This’ll allow you to decide for yourself when people will and won’t be able to find you on the dating app.

If you’d really like to take a break from Happn, you can also turn off your GPS. This way, Happn won’t be able to read your location – not even when invisible mode is off. However, if you choose to do this, you should be aware that the app will no longer work at all. Happn’s entire philosophy is based on getting to know people in your surroundings. If you don’t give them your location, you won’t be able to do this.

Use a fake location app

Turning off your GPS makes Happn useless. Do you still wish to use the app, but are you hesitant about sharing your exact location with others? You can always consider installing a fake location app to spoof your location. In many cases, this also works for dating apps: Happn will think you’re in a certain place, which you picked on a map yourself, instead of where you actually are. Popular apps that can achieve this are Fake GPS GO Location Spoofer for Android and Fake GPS Location through iTools for iOS. We’ve tested the Fake GPS GO Location Spoofer ourselves and we can confirm that it works with Happn.

The main issue with spoofing your location is that you’ll only be able to get in touch with Happn users that cross paths with that fake location. You won’t be able to  see users that happened to literally pass you by on the street. To solve this problem up to a certain point, you can pick a fake location that’s relatively close to where you are, or a public location you often find yourself at, such as your favorite club or restaurant. This way, you’ll still match with people in your neighborhood without giving away your actual, current location.

If you’d like to know how to install one of the fake location apps mentioned above, you can follow the instructions below:

Fake GPS GO Location Spoofer

Fake GPS GO is quite easy to install and available for Android 6.0 and higher. To use it, go through the following steps:

  1. Download the Fake GPS GO Location Spoofer app.
  2. Open the app and tap “Enable Mock Locations” on the first screen.
  3. Go to the map, choose the location you wish to use, and click the play button in the bottom left corner of the screen.
  4. In case the message “Mock locations are disabled or the app is not the default Mock Location app, please enable to continue” pops up, click “Enable“.
  5. The “Developer Options” screen will show. Click “Select Mock Location App” and select “FakeGPS Free“.
  6. Go back and press the play button again to enable the fake GPS setting.

iTools’ Fake GPS Location

Follow these steps to spoof your location on iOS with iTools:

  1. Install iTools on your computer.
  2. Open the program and select “Free Trial“.
  3. Go to the “Toolbox” tab.
  4. Go to “Device Toolkits” and select “Virtual Location“.
  5. Enter the fake location in the text box on the map and press enter.
  6. When a marker for the fake location appears on the map, click “Move Here” to set your iPhone to that location.

Once you’re done, you can go back to Happn and use it as you normally would, but your location will look like the virtual location you picked to other users.

Turn on your VPN

VPN on mobileA lot of dating apps don’t handle their users’ data with enough care. Often, they use unsafe connections, such as the HTTP protocol, for uploading pictures. This makes them susceptible to man-in-the-middle attacks. To ensure your data doesn’t fall into the wrong hands, it might be wise to use a VPN. A VPN creates an encrypted connection between you and the server. Because of this, others won’t be able to see your IP address and won’t have an insight into your data traffic – including everything you do on Happn.

Two VPNs you might want to try out are NordVPN and Surfshark. These two are known for their secure connections and relatively cheap prices. With them, you won’t just protect your online privacy and safeguard your data, you’ll also be able to roam the internet with complete freedom, as it allows you to get around all kinds of censorship.

Conclusion

Happn is a dating app with a philosophy that’s different from that of most other dating services. Based on your location, you get to meet other users that you’ve actually come across in real life. This is a fun and easy way to meet people. The platform offers different options to get in touch with users and share your interests.

Even so, you need to be careful. Make sure you take care of your privacy by limiting the information you share online, turning off your location, using a fake location app, or installing a VPN. On top of that, you should always be careful when agreeing to meet with someone. Make sure your friends or family know where you’re going, who you’re meeting, and when you expect to return. It’s also wise to meet in public, crowded places on a first date. Using these tips, you’ll be able to enjoy Happn to the fullest.

Cybersecurity analyst
David is a cyber security analyst and one of the founders of VPNoverview.com. Interested in the "digital identity" phenomenon, with special attention to the right to privacy and protection of personal data.

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