Clarke: Swipe right on online safety

Dating services need to take preventative action against violence both inside and out of the app.

Sidney Clarke

Sidney Clarke

by Sidney Clarke

At long last, Match Group, owner of Tinder, Hinge, and OkCupid uploaded a new line of safety mechanisms to pair with their services last month. Once downloaded, the new program called Noonlight offers users the option to program dates onto a calendar and share that schedule — and location — with friends. Emergency assistance, which is activated by hitting a panic button, comes complete with current location tracking. Finally, face recognition tech will compare selfies taken by users in real-time to the photos in their profile to eliminate catfishing. 

Although its safety policy statement might put users at ease by proclaiming the belief that “any incident of misconduct or criminal behavior is one too many,” other companies have been using similar safety technology for years. For example, Uber has been using location tracking since 2018 and is now developing technology that uses ultrasound waves to make sure that riders have boarded the correct vehicle.Bumble, a Silicon Valley startup founded primarily by women, has been using facial recognition and location services since 2016.  

As safety continues to be a primary concern for dating app users. Since its launch, some Tinder users have been victim to harassment and assault. In 2014, a woman from New Zealand fell from a 12th floor balcony while allegedly attempting to escape the aggressive advances of her Tinder date. In 2016, a man in Mexico City literally dissolved his Tinder date’s body in hydrochloric acid after her refusal to have sex with him. The stories go on. 

Until recently, the company has been operating as if in-app safety is their only responsibility. In 2017, Tinder launched a “Menprovement Initiative,” which allowed users to digitally ‘splash a cocktail’ in the face of a poor-mannered conversationalist. The update was well-intentioned, and, ok, a little bit funny, but also seriously undermined the gravity of online harassment. Instead of treating unsolicited pictures and aggression with a ‘no tolerance policy’ as promised, Tinder suggested that victims actually consider reeducating violators a matter of their own responsibility. 

After a case of harassment or assault is reported, Tinder removes the violator from the site and every related platform and informs the proper authorities. Additionally, they employ a council composed of members from Me Too, RAINN and other programs against exploitation. Before the recent update, Tinder relied on programming to screen for suspicious profiles, hackers and potentially disturbing messages, but the line for protection of its users ended in-app, and the company took little to no responsibility for occurrences between users in person. 

In its defense, Tinder pioneered the question “What are you looking for?” with the intent of receiving a legitimate response. This revolutionary advance has allowed for more effective communication between partners and the beginning of destigmatizing casual relationships. 

Its recent efforts to improve safety outside of the app’s code has been a step in the right direction. But despite these changes, it would still appear that a majority of users feel inclined to rely on their intuition when it comes to safety ⁠— which could be why over 70% of college-age users have never actually met up with one of their matches. The institution itself has stated that safety is one of their top priorities, but they could be doing more to ensure the safety of its users.