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Shraddha Walkar Murder: The Known and Unknown Risks of Dating Apps

Aaftab Poonawala brought a new date to his house before even completely disposing of Shraddha Walkar's remains.

Published
Crime
4 min read
Shraddha Walkar Murder: The Known and Unknown Risks of Dating Apps
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(Trigger Warning: Description of violence. Reader discretion advised.)

Aaftab Poonawala, the main accused in the murder of 27-year-old Shraddha Walkar, met her through the dating app Bumble in 2019. Almost three years later, soon after he allegedly killed her in Delhi's Chhatarpur, Poonawala re-installed the app in 2022 to match with another woman.

He reportedly brought the new date to his house before even completely disposing of Walkar's remains.

As per media reports, the Delhi Police is likely to reach out to the dating app to access Poonawala's profile and seek information about the other women he met through the app.

A Bumble spokesperson told The Quint that the team was "devastated" to hear about the "unspeakable crime", adding, "We will continue to follow closely and remain available to law enforcement should they request our support."

While no such attempt by the police has been made yet, the fact that an alleged murderer used the app to meet more women begs the question: Are they safe?

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How Dating Apps Can Be Manipulated

A recent study from Brigham Young University (BYU) has found a disturbing pattern in the US – highlighting how violent sexual predators are using such apps to target women with vulnerabilities such as mental illnesses.

The risk of being on these apps becomes even more significant knowing that by 2020 itself, there were 31 million users in India, as per a survey by statista.com.

India, especially during and after the COVID lockdown, has made a comfortable bed for dating apps, driven by a large population of single men (67 percent on the apps) and women.

In the largest research of its kind, published on 29 October, the BYU nursing team analysed sexual assault victims' medical exam charts from 2017 to 2020 in the US state of Utah.

Here's what they found:

  • 14 percent of the 1,968 rapes committed by acquaintances occurred during an initial meetup arranged through a dating app

  • In the study, among survivors of acquaintance rape unrelated to dating apps, 47 percent of the victims had disclosed a mental illness. In contrast, among those assaulted during a first meeting set up through an app, 60 percent of the people had disclosed a mental illness.

  • Furthermore, the perpetrators in dating-app-facilitated rapes seemed to be unusually violent. The attacks produced more victim injuries than other acquaintance rapes; one-quarter of the victims had breast injuries, and about 33 percent of the victims reported being strangled during the assault.

Though popular dating apps are working on more safety features, they seem to have made little headway in protecting their users, and their data.

Anyone who has used a dating app knows that it uses the radius around a person's location to determine potential matches. It has been reported that such a mechanism can allow a predator to possibly pinpoint the location of a 'prey'.
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Known and Unknown Risks

Radhika Jhalani, a lawyer with SFLC, told The Quint, "A lot of dating apps where you can send media, like Tinder or Bumble, you can get unsolicited pictures. Dating apps don't have a screenshot policy, which means people's data/conversations can go out. You can't hide your profiles either, which should be an option. Ideally, transparency reports by dating apps should also be a requirement."

Stating that though safety features have improved, Jhalani stated that there is a long way to go.

She further listed features that could make dating apps safer for Indian users:

  • There should be no screenshots

  • There should be a verification

  • There should be better data protection practices in place

  • There shouldn't be video calls on these apps

  • Better reporting mechanism

  • Better transparency on reporting mechanisms, maybe even a panic button

Speaking to The Quint, cyber expert Prashant Sahu listed the following features that make these apps unsafe:

  • Identity details (can be used for extortion )

  • Real profile photos (can be used for revenge porn)

  • Location details (can be used to narrow the search to a particular location)

  • Video calls (screen recorder can be used to record the conversation)

  • No age scrutiny mechanism

  • No way to identify fake profiles

Cyber expert Sahu added that bringing "age scrutiny mechanism, cross verification of profiles, and providing access to non-criminals (only passport holders or police verified people)" can further make them safer.

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'Apps Should Keep Our Data Safe'

Considering India's huge market, Jhalani added, "In the Indian context, users are stuck in the conundrum, that if they give their data, it can be breached since we don't have a data protection law. What instead happens is that these apps take a lot of our personal data. So we are scared; many don't end up giving accurate data or give false information, which makes these apps a security threat. But people are not wrong if they don't want to share their data. Ideally, what we should be aiming at is that we absolutely trust these apps and they keep our data 100 percent safe."

Speaking about sexual predators online, she added,

"There could be prolonged catfishing attempts made, the person tries to present themselves as someone else. Ultimately, it is a lot about having digital hygiene and women being more aware of these practices."

While features like verified profiles, block, report, and even 'Call for Help' have been developed for safe dating, the burden of safety can not lie only with the users on the condition of adhering to safety guidelines. Part of the responsibility lies with the tech companies to improve their safety standards.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

Read and Breaking News at the Quint, browse for more from cyber and crime

Topics:  Tinder   Delhi Murder   Bumble 

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