Dating Apps Don't Screen for Sex Offenders Because They Don't Have To

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The greatest fear of most dating app users is that their match won’t look like their photos, not that their match is a serial sexual assaulter. But according to a lengthy report, produced by BuzzFeed, Columbia Journalism Investigations and ProPublica, dating apps often allow sex offenders to sign up, sometimes repeatedly.

With the exception of Match, which screens paying users against sex offender registries, many of the larger, often free apps—including Match Group properties like Tinder, OkCupid, PlentyOfFish and Hinge—fail to screen, leaving the onus on customers to police for offenders. Many of those apps make these policies apparent upon signing up. For example, Tinder’s terms of use reads: “You are solely responsible for your interactions with other users. You understand that Tinder does not conduct criminal background checks on its users or otherwise inquire into the background of its users. Tinder makes no representations or warranties as to the conduct of users.” The result is an unknowable number of sex offenders on the app, including potential repeat rapists.

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Dating apps don’t have a legal obligation to conduct background checks, so they generally don’t. The 1996 Communications Decency Act “protect[s] websites from being held liable for their users’ speech,” according to the article, allowing companies to avoid liability for screening, even in situations where a user reports sexual assault.

“There are definitely registered sex offenders on our free products,” a Match Group rep told CJI, arguing that the company is prevented from scrutinizing because the company’s free apps don’t collect enough information from its users to accurately screen its users.

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Clearly the current mechanisms don’t protect users sufficiently—but extending those screenings against sex offender registers to all apps, including the free ones, doesn’t seem very hard. Read the full report here.

Update (5:36 p.m.): In a statement, Match Group emphasized their commitment to user safety, writing: “We do not tolerate sex offenders on our site... We use a network of industry-leading tools, systems and processes and spend millions of dollars annually to prevent, monitor and remove bad actors – including registered sex offenders – from our apps. As technology evolves, we will continue to aggressively deploy new tools to eradicate bad actors.”

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Maria Sherman

Senior Writer, Jezebel