Tinder will soon offer background checks on your matches

Privacy news
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Magnifying glass over the Tinder logo.

This post was originally published on March 31, 2021.

The greatest risk of dating through apps is that you often find yourself meeting up in person with a complete stranger—someone who could have a history of violence and do you bodily harm.

Tinder’s parent company, Match, is attempting to give U.S. users greater access to information that would help them make informed decisions about their matches. The company has announced that it will be bringing background checks to its dating apps, including Tinder, Hinge, and OKCupid.

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The online dating conglomerate is pairing  up with Garbo, a non-profit background-check platform concerned with gender-based violence, to test out the software on Tinder in the coming months in the U.S. before rolling it out to the rest of Match’s dating apps.

On Tinder, Garbo’s background checks will only need a last name and a phone number to provide “historical information about violence and abuse to empower people to make more informed decisions and choices about their safety.”

Safety on dating apps

Implementing these checks in an industry that surged last year will be welcomed by many. In 2019, an investigation by ProPublica found registered sex offenders on several of Match Group’s free platforms, including Tinder.

The publication of the investigation triggered scrutiny from Congress, who urged in a letter to Match Group’s president Shar Dubey to “take swift action to reduce the risk of sexual and dating violence against their users” and do “everything in their power to ensure the safety of their users.”

At the moment, a person needs to report on a person’s violent past to Tinder or similar apps in order to get them removed from the platform. Additionally, Tinder and Bumble also have photo verification and in-app video calling to verify the person’s identity.

Will it work?

To Garbo’s credit, they have been selective about what the relevant background checks cover, specifically excluding individuals charged with drug charges and traffic violations, arguing that  “the research continues to show that there is no link between drug possession and gender-based violence.” The organization also continues to evaluate how best to use public records and reports to proactively prevent gender-based violence in the digital age.

But with these background checks being the first of its kind in the online-dating industry, it is hard to say whether there are additional unintended privacy violations that may occur for the apps’ users. Tinder already shares 21% of the information you give it to third parties, although arguably sharing “only” phone numbers and last names with a tool intended to protect its users is probably one of the lesser data sharing problems.

The background check tool isn’t live yet, and it’s currently unclear how users will access this (paid) tool to check their potential matches, or even how accurate the system will be. However, it will likely require users to provide true personal details, including a last name and phone number, for starters. And this might drive anyone hoping to stay anonymous on dating apps to find alternatives.

Are background checks on dating apps a good idea? Let us know in the comments!

Read more: Online dating and privacy: Will it ever be a match?

Ceinwen focused on digital privacy, censorship, and surveillance, and has interviewed leading figures in tech.