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Should Online Dating Apps Screen For Registered Sex Offenders?

A selection of online dating app logos are seen on a mobile phone screen.
A selection of online dating app logos are seen on a mobile phone screen.
Leon Neal/Getty Images

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Known sex offenders are using online dating apps like Tinder, PlentyofFish or OKCupid, according to a new investigative piece from Columbia Journalism Investigations. The report, co-published through ProPublica and Buzzfeed News, finds that while Match screens for sex offenders on its site, other free applications that Match Group owns does not. 

Match agreed to start screening for registered sex offenders in 2011 after a high-profile entertainment executive sued the company after the service connected her with a six-time convicted rapist. According to the article, she told police the man raped her on their second date. Match, along with other major online dating services, agreed in 2012 to industry best practices that meant identifying sexual predators and responding to users’ reports of rape.

Match Group has said it’s not able to obtain “sufficient and reliable information to make meaningful background checks possible” for certain apps, but it’s deploying aggressive new tools to eradicate “bad actors.” CJI reporters looked at about 150 sexual assault incidents that involved online dating apps and found most incidents occurred in the past five years and almost all the victims were women. Should online dating services be more aggressive in seeking out registered sex offenders? Some legal experts say it’s a complicated question. And on the flip side, should online dating sites deny registered sex offenders the right to use online dating apps, considering the wide swath of circumstances and varying degrees of offenses? 

Today on AirTalk, we discuss the issue. Do you use online dating apps? Do you take any specific measures to enhance your safety, like background checks? Do you think users or the online services should take on more of the responsibility when it comes to the issues around safety? Join the conversation by calling 866-893-5722.

Match Group, which owns many online dating services, could not make someone available for our interview request but provided AirTalk with this statement:

“This article is inaccurate, disingenuous and mischaracterizes Match Group safety policies as well as our conversations with ProPublica. We do not tolerate sex offenders on our site and the implication that we know about such offenders on our site and don't fight to keep them off is as outrageous as it is false. We use a network of industry-leading tools, systems and processes and spend millions of dollars annually to prevent, monitor and remove bad actors – including registered sex offenders – from our apps. As technology evolves, we will continue to aggressively deploy new tools to eradicate bad actors, including users of our free products like Tinder, Plenty of Fish and OkCupid where we are not able to obtain sufficient and reliable information to make meaningful background checks possible. A positive and safe user experience is our top priority, and we are committed to realizing that goal every day.”


Keith Cousins, fellow at Columbia Journalism Investigations, where he’s been following this story; he tweets @KeithJCousins

Janice Bellucci, civil rights attorney and executive director for the Alliance for Constitutional Sex Defense Laws  

Ambrosio Rodriguez, former prosecutor and criminal defense attorney; he led the sex crimes team in the Riverside D.A.’s office