Dating app background and ID checks being considered in bid to fight abuse
National roundtable mulls safety strategies as communications minister says ‘no one law is going to fix this issue’
Background checks and ID verification systems in dating apps are among the measures being considered as governments around the country grapple with how to keep people safe while they are looking for love online.
The strategies were discussed by ministers, victim-survivors, authorities and technology companies as part of national dating app roundtable talks in Sydney on Wednesday.
The federal communications minister, Michelle Rowland, said it was an “important first step”, flagging discussion of possible longer-term changes like background checks for dating app users.
“None of us underestimate the complex issues around privacy, user safety, data collection and management that are involved,” she said.
“There’s no one law that is going to fix this issue.”
“Many instances of abuse are perpetrated by those without a criminal record or any convictions … and that’s why a big focus of the discussion was also on what could be done to encourage respectful online interactions.”
Dating apps were also put on notice by the eSafety Comissioner, Julie Inman Grant, who warned none were up to her safety standards and that they needed to make major improvements or they would face a mandatory code.
She said platforms needed to be transparent about how many people were being abused so the government could get a handle on the scale of the problem.
“I wouldn’t say any one [app] is meeting all of those standards,” she said.
The commissioner would be issuing notices to all platforms demanding greater sharing of data, collaboration between platforms on safety measures and roadmaps for how they planned to deal with users who reappear on apps and reoffend.
“If I don’t get total transparency, I have legal compulsion powers that I can use,” she said.
Rowland said complaint handling by apps was a key area of concern.
“We need industry to improve their action, their transparency and their accountability in how they respond to consumer complaints,” she said.
The federal social services minister, Amanda Rishworth, said people with lived experiences of app-enabled abuse and violence needed to be at the centre of discussions to stop perpetrators.
“There does need to be a proactive response, where it is perpetrators and those perpetrating the abuse that are held to account,” Rishworth said.
Teach Us Consent founder, Chanel Contos, called on dating app companies to invest in educating the public about respectful relationships and consent.
Federal, state and territory attorneys general will now be asked to look at the issues and consider criminal justice response as a matter of priority.
Wednesday’s meeting was called in response to the rising number of people using online dating apps and a corresponding rise in assault and abuse.
A recent study from the Australian Institute of Criminology found three-quarters of survey respondents had been subjected to sexual violence on dating apps in the last five years.
Tinder’s parent company, Match, vowed to work with Australian authorities to improve user safety by using technology within the platform, saying it was “focused on building safety in everything we do”.
A Bumble spokesperson said the company was looking forward to working with others to improve safety for women on and off the platform.
“Any instance of violence, harassment or abuse is unacceptable to us and we do not hesitate to permanently remove perpetrators from our platform,” the spokesperson said. “We have a law enforcement portal to facilitate access to data for investigative purposes. We will even take action against perpetrators for behaviour that is reported to us that occurred on other apps.”
In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14 and the national family violence counselling service is on 1800 737 732. In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on freephone 116 123 and the domestic abuse helpline is 0808 2000 247. In the US, the suicide prevention lifeline is 1-800-273-8255 and the domestic violence hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Other international helplines can be found via www.befrienders.org