By John Winer
Millions of Americans are using dating services to meet new people, but using them may come with a risk. A new investigation by ProPublica, Columbia Journalism, and Buzzfeed found that popular dating apps owned by Match Group including Tinder, OkCupid, and Plenty of Fish, some of the most popular dating apps in the world, maybe harboring sexual predators, and company leaders are aware of this potential danger. As the use of dating services expands, companies behind these apps should have the moral and legal responsibility to screen users who are registered as sex offenders for the sake of its users.
The investigation revealed that there were more than 150 instances of sexual assault involving dating apps, and approximately 10% involved users being matched with dates who had previously been accused or convicted of sexual assault. According to the report, most of the incidents occurred during first-time meetups in parking lots, dorm rooms and apartments. Mostly all of the victims met their attackers through the dating websites owned by Match Group.
While users of Match.com’s premium paid dating service are subjected to a background check that compares their name to state sex offender registries, it doesn’t take those same steps on the free services it owns. Match has previously agreed to screen for registered sex offenders to improve safety practices and issued statements promising to protect its users from sexual predators. As Match continued to evolve into Match Group and bought its competitors, the company didn’t extend this practice across its other platforms, allowing convicted and accused perpetrators to access the apps and leave users at risk of getting matched with a sex offender.
The investigation by Columbia Journalism Investigations prompted the U.S. House Oversight and Reform subcommittee to launch an investigation into the safety of online dating apps for allowing minors and sex offenders to sign up for their services. The investigation is looking into companies’ procedures for verifying ages, as well as looking into any complaints of assault or rape they may have received, and what exactly they’re doing to combat the problem. In response to this, Match Group said it uses every tool possible to keep minors and perpetrators off its services and continues to invest in technology to keep users safe. Besides safety issues, the investigation also seeks to address concerns about data the services request to make matches, including sexual orientation, gender identity and drug, alcohol and tobacco use.
Although dating apps and services have grown, the companies behind the apps haven’t made much progress to ensure its users are safe. The lack of structured and mandated background checking across the apps has left users vulnerable to offenders, and now with more people than ever using apps, Match Group has the responsibility to deploy new tools to help verify that the people using its dating apps aren’t convicted perpetrators waiting to catch their next victim with a swipe to the right.