In August 2017, newly named CEO of Match Group Mandy Ginsberg said, “Match.com is no different than society. If you go out to a bar and meet someone that you don’t know, you should be careful.”
Keen advice from a company that profits whether your date was the same person as their profile photo or not. Dating is fun, right?
Women learn quickly to walk home with keys gripped like a weapon. We ask our friends to let us know they got home safely after a night out. We follow along on our smartphone maps to make sure Uber and Lyft drivers aren’t taking us in a strange direction. And we are told by major corporations to look for warning signs that a “match” may not be the person they say they are.
While the #MeToo movement has opened honest conversations about consent, assault, and harassment, there is a noticeable and gaping lack of progress in what is arguably the most lucrative aspect of dating: the business of dating apps. In 2017, online dating became a $3 billion dollar industry. Yeah, billion. These websites and mobile apps are literally connecting strangers to find true love or perhaps a consensual hookup. What could go wrong, right?
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According to a recent report from the United Kingdom, online dating-related offenses rose more than 380 percent since 2011. What about the United States? For starters, Match didn’t conduct a National Sex Offender registry check on users until 2011.
Many dating apps offer a page of advice for users to protect themselves. But here’s the thing: A page simply suggesting that users meet in a public space makes me question whether the tech wizards and developers behind these apps are truly taking the most action to better protect women and all users. One needn’t look further than their blocking capabilities.
Let’s start with Tinder. The app has risen to the top of dating apps, with an estimated 50 million users. A Facebook profile or phone number is required to open an account, after which you will be presented fairly quickly with a list of profiles to either “like” or “pass.” Similarly, other users will see you in their list of profiles.
If you both like one another’s profile, it is considered a “match” and you can then begin chatting. Because you can only interact with someone after you’ve matched, there is no way of blocking someone from seeing your profile before they come across it. There’s also no way to predict that someone will come across your profile and prevent them from doing so.
It may bring a little peace of mind to block your last breakup, but this also means if you have a stalker, an abusive ex, or someone who has harassed or assaulted you, you cannot prevent them from seeing you on the app.
The only way to guarantee that someone’s profile won’t appear is if you’ve previously “matched” and one of you “unmatches” the other. According to Tinder’s FAQ page, unmatching is a permanent action, so you won’t be able to communicate with them ever again, and they won’t come up while you are on the app.
“My very first day using Match.com, I got a notification from my ex-husband after I had already attempted to block him,” said Kerry (not her real name). “Within the first few hours, I was actually trying to get a refund because I immediately felt uncomfortable.”
Match, the dating app that offers “missed connections” —the ability to show you that someone you matched with also uses the same parking garage (creepy?)—is another dating app offering a limited, and sometimes not very functional, form of blocking.
The site states you can block another member from communicating with you by clicking on the “block from contact” link on their profile. But as Kerry learned, an attempt to block someone may not even work properly.
“It made me feel anxious and upset me greatly,” she said. “Our divorce was not a good one, and I took great strides to distance myself from him. The fact that he was one of the first people I saw when I jumped back into the dating pool just put a pit in my stomach.”
Kerry’s complaint received no explanation. Hers was one of 1,700 unanswered complaints that helped Match earn a failing grade from the Better Business Bureau last year. Other complaints have included not being transparent about its billing practices, receiving unwanted likes and comments from blocked users, and fake users.
Unlike other dating apps, Bumble puts more control in the hands of women to make the first move. In heterosexual matches, a woman has 24 hours to make the first move and a man has 24 hours to respond. In same-sex matches, either person has 24 hours to make the first move.
Whitney Wolfe Herd, the app’s founder and a Tinder co-founder, launched Bumble after she left Tinder and sued the company for sexual harassment. She and other developers behind the app have been vocal about their desire to make it safe for women to use. The app explicitly bans hate speech, shirtless bathroom mirror selfies, and unsolicited genitalia pics. It’s also not afraid to ban someone who has been reported after inappropriate behavior.
While Bumble is making steps in the right direction, it still comes with its hiccups. In 2016, users reported the app was matching people with underage users. In 2018, should an assaulter or stalker appear as a potential match, a user can indeed block them, but there is no way to search for them to proactively protect oneself.
Bumble claims it’s changed the dating game so you can form relationships in a respectful way. The app may be closer than some, but let’s be clear that the game still has a ways to go.
OkCupid, a site owned by the Match Group (which also owns Tinder, Match.com, and other dating brands), also touts a commitment to ban users with hostile intentions. With 34 moderation and support staff who examine profiles for scams or abuse, the site has “zero tolerance” when it comes to harassment.
“If someone makes one of our users feel uncomfortable or unwelcome, we ban them,” said Alice Goguen Hunsberger, OkCupid’s director of customer experience.
But it was only months ago that the site finally placed limitations on its users having the freedom to message anyone they wanted. Nick Saretzky, OkCupid’s head of product, told Slate that the company was partly inspired by feedback from women who were tired of being harassed by random users and OkCupid had been working on the change for two years. Yep. Two years.
However, users can pay for extra safety through a feature called Incognito Mode. It claims your profile will not be revealed to anyone unless you like them or message them. This means users who don’t want to be seen by or interact with anyone they haven’t picked themselves don’t have to. Shouldn’t that just be free and available to all users?
Dating should be fun, right? During a time where the realities of sexual assault and harassment are being publicly exposed and shared to create real change, the online dating business is falling short on its contribution to building a safer future. Let’s not wait for harassment or complaints to pile up before better safety precautions are created. Let’s demand better.