Once confined to websites accessed from home computers, online dating has gone mobile. Dating apps dominate the social scene with tens of millions of active users each month choosing services such as Tinder and OkCupid. Despite their popularity and their status as a pop culture fixture, there are potential downsides to using these apps that the average user does not consider. A 2019 report by the investigative journalists at ProPublica has exposed the limitations and gaps in the safety screening processes that are currently in use by Match Group, the owner of Tinder, OkCupid, and other dating platforms.
The problem is simple: users of these services, even the paid subscription versions, do not undergo a background check. Users do not even need to pass a name-based screening of sex offender registries: Instead, anyone can sign up for a free account—using a real name or not—and begin matching with other individuals.
The result: a string of sexual assaults and other violent crimes that critics allege could have been avoided with stronger screening. According to the ProPublica report, many of the crimes happened during the very first meeting between individuals—and they were perpetrated by individuals already on sex offender registries. Match Group does check those registries, but only for subscribers to its flagship Match.com service. The company downplayed the severity of the problem in response to the ProPublica report, stating that the 150 incidents of assault represented a small number compared to the total number of users.
Is there anything that users can do to protect themselves proactively? It is possible to run background checks on individuals. Unlike in an employee-employer relationship, private individuals don't need to seek someone else's consent to consult the public record. However, they may run into many of the same problems that Match Group and other dating app operators face: you can only use the information that someone chooses to share with you. Apps such as Tinder sometimes do not display more information than a user's first name—any effort to verify someone's identity in such a scenario becomes far more difficult.
Match Group insisted to reporters that there is no viable way to accurately or routinely vet the users of its free platforms even as it regularly does so for other services. The company's spokesperson also said that background checks create a "false sense of security." Advocates of stricter requirements for the company's services disagree.
One thing is clear: the status quo creates a scenario in which those who wish to use dating apps must do so at their own risk. backgroundchecks.com partners with Peoplefinders to help you run background checks on individuals as you perform your own due diligence in the age of digital dating.