Online dating apps surged in popularity in the 2010s, supplanting web-based matchmaking services that had previously dominated the internet. Today, a variety of apps, from Tinder to Bumble, have sprung up in pursuit of connecting people with potential romantic partners. As these apps have grown, so too have concerns over their safety.
After several years of development, Tinder finally unveiled paid background checks integrated into its app to allow users to better evaluate their compatibility matches. Aiming to provide the best background check for dating in the internet age, Tinder says its new service will let users check if their matches appear in any sex offender databases or if they have prior arrests and convictions for violent crimes.
While Tinder has portrayed this new change as a big win for users, some advocates have raised concerns over the potential problems the company’s service provider might introduce into the equation. Because Tinder has chosen to work with a public record aggregator rather than a true background check company, users may not be able to enjoy a large degree of certainty when it comes to the records they get back. The inclusion of arrest information in the data also has the potential to mislead — but whether the average user will think as far ahead as criminal justice reform advocates remains to be seen.
Even before dating app background checks were rolled out to users, research and statistics conducted by security firms have shown that many people “creep” on potential dating partners online before meeting. More than a third of respondents to one survey said they had used search engines to look into an individual, while nearly half said they looked through a potential partner’s social media sites. A surprising number of respondents in the 18-39 cohort also said that they would be more likely to continue to explore a former partner’s history online if they knew they could do so discreetly.
This last statistic in which nearly 40% of younger people said they would consider consequence-free cyber-stalking is one contributing reason for concerns over the background checks now integrated into dating apps. Although Tinder’s provider claims it will not include personal information such as home addresses in its reports, privacy concerns surrounding personal background checks remain.
Some worries also exist about such checks creating a sense of complacency on the app. While background checks could reveal information that indicates someone might not be safe to meet, a clean background check doesn’t mean an individual is necessarily trustworthy. Most perpetrators of sexual assault and violence do not have a prior record, even if they may have a habitual pattern of abuse.
The effectiveness of dating app vetting remains to be seen. While empowering users with tools to better protect themselves is an excellent choice, there are obvious reasons for concern—both for personal safety and individual privacy. For a better level of confidence, users should consider turning to background check providers that professionally compile records. No matter the choice one makes about vetting, safety in online dating should always be a priority.