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The number of Americans using internet dating services has tripled over the last five years, according to a detailed new survey by the Pew Internet Project. But if you really want to know what amorous adults are doing on their computers and smartphones, look no further than Google GOOG 13.8% and Facebook FB +3.85%.
Using search engines and social networking sites to keep tabs on former partners and scout romantic prospects have exploded as mainstream behaviors in the time since Pew conducted its last big study of the role of the internet in Americans' love lives. That was in 2005, before Facebook opened its doors to the general public and before Apple's AAPL +0.87% iPhone revolutionized mobile connectivity.
Those and related innovations have made it radically easier to snoop on people we've dated or would like to date. And snoop we do.
Nearly a quarter of internet users (24%) admit to conducting an online search for information about someone they've dated in the past. That's up from 11% who copped to it in 2005. Among those active on the dating scene, it's even more prevalent, with 38% saying they've Googled (or Binged) an ex.
Thanks to the miracle that is Facebook, of course, a Google search is hardly necessary anymore. Six out of ten Americans are now users of social networking services, and of those, one in three say they've sifted a former flame�s profile or updates for nuggets of news.
Fortunately, all of this cyber-snooping isn't about clinging to the past. We're also doing it to find new people we can one day break up with and trawl for pictures of late at night. Among those who've dated recently, 29% said they had searched online for information about someone they were dating or were about to go out with. In 2005, only 13% of people in that group described doing so. (Remember when Googling a date was the stuff of style-section trend stories?)
Similarly, 30% of social network users who are active or recent daters report using such services to collect intel on romantic interests. For those age 18 to 29, that number spikes to 41%.
Pew's survey, based on interviews with 2,252 American adults, also sheds light on how dating in the internet age differs for men and women, and how it doesn't. Members of the two sexes have similar success rates, with 23% of online daters saying they've found a long-term relationship or even a marriage that way. (Overall, 11% of American adults have used a dating site or dating app.) They're also equally likely -- 54% -- to complain about being tricked by someone whose profile was misleading.
But for women, unwanted contact and outright harassment are much bigger issues. Forty-two percent of female online daters say they've been subjected to unwanted approaches, while only 17% of men say the same. Likewise, on social networking sites, 33% of women say they've resorted to blocking someone who was making them feel uncomfortable, versus only 19% of men.