House Democrats on Thursday revealed they are investigating reports of registered sex offenders across a slew of popular dating apps owned by Match Group, including Tinder, Plenty of Fish, and OkCupid, and are questioning whether Match Group is taking appropriate steps to protect users from sexual violence.
“We are concerned Match Group does not conduct basic checks of users against Federal, State, and Tribal Sex Offender Registries,” reads a letter from the House members sent Thursday to Match Group CEO Shar Dubay. While the apps do ask users to certify whether or not they’ve been required to register as sex offenders, the accuracy of that information is reportedly not verified in some cases by the company.
“A review of the terms of service for Tinder, Hinge, Plenty of Fish, and OkCupid shows that you already ask users to certify that they are not required to register as sex offenders,” the letter continues. “The failure to cross-reference all user responses with sex offender registries is deeply concerning.” The lawmakers also attached questions regarding Match’s efforts to respond to reports of sexual violence, they said. The letter does not bear the weight of a subpoena, however, and it’s up to Match Group to respond.
“Just because a service is online doesn’t mean it’s immune from real world consequences,” Rep. Debbie Dingell, one of the cosigners, told Gizmodo. “Match Group has a fundamental duty to protect their users and ensure they are not being targeted for sexual assault or human trafficking by known individuals on sex offender registries.”
A Match Group spokesperson said the company shares the concerns of lawmakers about its users’ safety and “look forward to working with them on this important issue.” Additionally, they said, the national sex offender register, which is maintained by the U.S. Justice Department, needs to be updated to allow the online dating industry to better track the digital footprints of perpetrators. “A positive and safe user experience is our top priority, and we are committed to working with all parties to realize that goal every day,” the spokesperson said.
Signed by members of the Energy and Commerce Committee, whose jurisdiction includes interstate commerce and consumer protection in the House, the letter points to a December article co-published by ProPublica, BuzzFeed, and Columbia Journalism Investigations (CJI), which includes an acknowledgment of the issue by a Match Group spokesperson: “There are definitely registered sex offenders on our free products,” they said.
To wit, while subscribers of paid versions of Match apps are checked against state sex offender lists, free platforms such as Tinder, OkCupid, and Plenty of Fish, include no such vetting. The reason, according to Match, is that free users aren’t required to supply enough information about themselves upfront to complete a background check.
CJI said it analyzed more than 150 incidents of sexual assault involving dating apps reaped from a variety of sources, including criminal records and news reports. The December report states that almost all victims are women introduced to their attackers through Match Group’s selection of apps. In ten percent of the cases, reporters found the victims had been matched with someone who’d been previously accused or convicted of sexual assault at least once.
More importantly, CJI also found that there were no paid subscribers to Match.com—which does collect enough information to check new users against sex offender lists—among the cases of assault it examined. To the analysts, this suggested that safeguards such as cross-referencing with sex offender databases are protecting users. Nevertheless, according to ProPublica, Match Group refused multiple requests by reporters to interview company executives and other key employees about its supposed efforts to deter sexual assault.
The House letter to Match Group’s CEO was signed by U.S. Representatives Annie Kuster, Jan Schakowsky, Bobby L. Rush, Anna G. Eshoo, Eliot L. Engel, Kathy Castor, Jerry McNerney, Scott H. Peters, Debbie Dingell, Robin L. Kelly, and Tom O’Halleran.
“Consumers should feel safe using services like Tinder, Match.com, OkCupid and other similar sites, and it’s critical that these companies have strong terms of service that they can and will enforce,” Rep. Schakowsky, who chairs the Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee, said in a statement. “This means that dating platforms, like those owned by Match Group, must be doing everything in their power to ensure the safety of their users. This means vigilant enforcement of terms of service that empower consumers in any online marketplace. I hope the Match.com group will take swift action to reduce the risk of sexual and dating violence against their users.”
“Congress has the responsibility to consider whether online dating platforms are doing their part to keep Americans safe,” added Rep. Annie Kuster. “I am concerned that Match Group’s failure to check users against sex offender registries jeopardizes the well-being of the millions of Americans who use dating apps. As the founder and co-chair of the Bipartisan Task Force to End Sexual Violence, I am committed to supporting survivors and preventing sexual and dating violence. We cannot effectively address this issue without ensuring that those who use dating apps can do so safely.”
Update, 3pm: Added a comment from a Match Group spokesperson.