Forget about red flags; let’s see that arrest record!
This week Tinder announced a new feature that allows users to run a background check on potential suitors. This new in-app tool purports to be a promising step forward by a company that has come under fire for creating potentially dangerous situations. However, the way this feature is utilized suggests that Tinder and its parent company, Match Group, are more concerned with appearances than safety.
Dating apps have long been home to horror stories of catfishing and creeps, but they’ve also enabled rapists to reach new victims from the safety of their homes.
“A first-of-its-kind partnership for the dating industry,” Tinder has partnered with Garbo, a female-led non-profit which offers speedy background checks – typically in three minutes or less – to enhance user safety. With just a name and a phone number, Garbo allows access to “violent or harmful behavior,” which specifically includes: arrests, convictions, and sex offenders.
In addition, Garbo will also direct users to appropriate mental health and safety services, such as the National Domestic Violence Hotline and RAINN, the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network.
“Garbo seeks to democratize access to public safety information, which has traditionally been cost-prohibitive,” according to founder Kathryn Kosmides. However, she was adamant that her software not flag users for small crimes, typically used to oppress marginalized communities, such minor offenses as drug possession, loitering, and vagrancy.
Kosmides, herself a survivor, is proud of this partnership. “We want to protect those most vulnerable to experiencing harm both online and offline, and this is just the first step in delivering on our mission to help proactively prevent harm in the digital age,” she says.
Dating Due Diligence
Despite the potential protective powers of Garbo, she is quick to note that many violent criminals do not have a record, so users must continue to be vigilant and discerning even if their potential suitor passes the background check.
A Garbo search is inexpensive, costing $2.50 plus a processing fee. Tinder is offering its users two free background checks. They are the first of Match Group’s dating brands to provide this in-app experience. Match Group also owns Match, Hinge, OkCupid, and PlentyOfFish, among others. They are no stranger to bad press, with ProPublica coming down hard on the dating conglomerate for its poor safety practices.
ProPublica – an independent, investigative news site – exposed an uncomfortable history of rapists repeatedly using PlentyOfFish to find new victims. Multiple users came forward to claim that the same man raped them, something they believe Match Group should take responsibility for.
A spokesperson for Match Group admitted, “there are definitely registered sex offenders on our free products.” Match Group is quick to note, however, that incidents of sexual assault are “a relatively small amount of the tens of millions of people using our dating services.”
Does a minority of cases mean it’s okay? “We believe that everyone should have a safe and positive dating experience. This is fundamental to our values and to our success as a business,” says a statement on the Match Group website.
If safety was fundamental to their success, why are they choosing to use Garbo as an optional feature when it could easily be a mandatory part of sign-up?
Since sexual assaults are – for now – in the minority on apps like Tinder or Hinge, Match Group is willing to let these crimes slide, perhaps because it doesn’t hurt their bottom line. In 2021, the Texas-based company had 3 billion in revenue, up from 2.4 billion in 2020. Those numbers might also explain why they use Garbo in such a limited way.
If a Garbo background check only requires a name and phone number to provide results, it could easily be mandated for users wishing to sign-up for the dating app. So why does the burden fall on a user’s gut instinct rather than an umbrella requirement for all participants?
Since Garbo has made every effort to ensure their software is cost-effective, a $2.50 background check to sign up for Tinder is paltry if it means keeping everyone safe. It could even include it in its paid subscriptions.
A Match Made In…
Match Group has shed little insight on why they aren’t using Garbo across the board. Tracey Breeden, Head of Safety and Social Advocacy at Match Group, told CNN, “the company may not have the relevant information about users to conduct the searches.” Yet, in the same breath, they’re boasting about how it just takes a name and phone number for Garbo to generate a background check.
Despite their seven-figure investment in Garbo, Match Group keeps this feature optional for all users, a potentially dangerous decision. For the user who pays for a background check and learns their match was convicted of a violent crime, the onus is on them to report it, which means Garbo could generate repeat revenue on the same violent criminals searching for victims on Tinder.
Will these flashy shows of support assuage user concerns, or is Tinder’s day of reckoning swiftly approaching?
Until Match Group makes background checks mandatory for all participants, the looming threat of danger will continue to pervade the world of online dating. And while a background check won’t prevent all future crimes, it is one affordable step Match Group could take to protect all its users, and at this time, the company is choosing not to.
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Justin McDevitt is a playwright and essayist from New York City. His latest play HAUNT ME had its first public reading at Theater for the New City in September. He is a contributor for RUE MORGUE where he lends a queer eye to horror cinema in his column STAB ME GENTLY.