Tinder Adds Background Checks to Its Dating App – Wall Street Journal

Match Group Inc.’s Tinder is introducing a tool to let users run background checks on prospective dates, as the company continues to address concerns about the safety of dating apps.

Match Group said it has been developing the tool since last March, when it announced an investment in Garbo Technology Corp., a nonprofit background check organization.

Tinder members who tap the feature in the app’s safety center will be directed to Garbo to fill in information about themselves as well as details about their match, such as name and phone number.

Garbo will surface arrests and convictions for certain violent crimes, as well as sex offender registry status, and indicate whether it has high, medium or low confidence in the results.

“This is the first that’s been done in this industry,” said Tracey Breeden, head of safety and social advocacy at Match Group.

The company has come under criticism over sexual assaults and other crimes following connections made on its apps.

Match Group also took a stake in 2020 in an app called Noonlight to bring new safety features to its dating apps, starting with Tinder. Noonlight tracks the location of users and notifies authorities in the event of safety concerns.

Adding optional background checks might lead to unintended consequences, according to some observers.

While some Tinder users may benefit from learning potentially important information about a date, false positives or lack of data in some results are also likely to make some people fearful, said Naomi F. Sugie, associate professor of criminology, law and society at the University of California, Irvine.

Background checks are often inaccurate and definitions of certain crimes, including sexual offenses, vary from state to state, so it is up to recipients of reports to understand the nuances of violations, Prof. Sugie said.

Garbo said it has tried to address the pitfalls of background checks by adding its confidence indicators and limiting the information it provides.

For example, results Garbo gives Tinder users exclude arrests and convictions for financial crimes that are more than seven years in the past as well as for homicides or robberies that took place more than 14 years ago. Such time limits were developed by criminal justice reform advocates to give people who committed crimes a chance to change their behavior, Garbo said.

The results also don’t mention arrests or convictions for some offenses such as marijuana possession, vandalism and breaking curfew and loitering laws.

Tinder users also won’t receive any personal identifying information on the subject of their query, to avoid any potential stalking, harassment or doxing, said Kathryn Kosmides, founder and chief executive of Garbo.

People who use the service are provided with a tutorial on how the tool works, with resources such as blog content about online dating scams as well as access to the National Domestic Violence Hotline and the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.

“Background checks are not a silver bullet and are not a one-stop-shop for being safe,” Ms. Kosmides said.

Though Garbo has attempted to fix many of the problems with background checks, the system remains imperfect, some criminal justice experts said.

“The broader question is how harmful the [law enforcement and judicial] system is to certain communities and how often we see overpolicing and overcharging, and whether it is an accurate marker of whether people are safe or not,” said Sarah Lageson, associate professor at the Rutgers School of Criminal Justice at Rutgers University’s Newark campus.

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