‘Love life’ at Oxford University shattered by data breach

A dating website promoting casual sex for Oxford students publicly shared a database with student and staff names, email addresses, and college names.

Named ‘OxShag,' the new dating website claimed to offer casual sex matchmaking opportunities for students who are “overworked and undersexed,” according to the slogan on the homepage. Upon signing up, website users had to pay a £3 fee to select up to 20 students or staff members they were interested in and submit their names to the website.

The website was taken down almost immediately after its launch on January 8, 2023, due to the massive amount of complaints of privacy violations by university students and staff. The website featured a list of everyone with an Oxford University email address.

Included on a dating site without permission

Many concerns involved the fact that many university community members ended up on the website without ever signing up for the dating services.

“Upsetting is putting it lightly. It feels violating to be sucked into a strange sex game without any knowledge of it beforehand; the lines crossed here are astounding. Not only was consent not sought prior to the site going up, it is also publicly available, proving worrying for safety reasons,” commented students in the University’s newspaper.

Anonymous creators explained on a later deleted Instagram page that “without loading everyone’s names onto the website, it would be impossible to match people […] Just because your name is listed on Oxshag doesn’t mean you are participating.”

The list was compiled using publicly available information, yet the website had no defined privacy policies. Also, it did not appear on the data protection public register, so it had no right to handle personal data.

The creator partially admitted wrongdoing by calling the data breach an “innocent mistake.” However, one downplayed the situation, claiming that the publicly available data was little more than peoples’ names and colleges.

“What could have been a fun event has been now ruined by the loud minority. Loosen up a bit, have a laugh, and take life a bit less seriously. I think those who are the most against Oxshag are probably the most in need of it,” wrote the anonymous creator.

A spokesperson for Oxford University stated that the institution “was very concerned” in the wake of the website launch and took immediate actions to “minimize the risk to students and staff.”

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