Government probe into dating app safety
A government probe into the safety of online dating sites has triggered changes in how the apps themselves operate, and the measures they go to ensure safety of their users.
The National Roundtable on Online Dating Safety, facilitated by the Federal Communications Minister Michelle Rowland MP, began in January, to examine ways to protect Aussies turning to the internet in search of love.
The Roundtable has heard from experts in the online dating industry, state governments, law enforcement, academics and other key stakeholders to determine methods of which sites can prevent the exploitation of online dating services.
The initiative came after the Australian Institute of Criminology released a report in October last year, revealing three in four people had been a victim of some sort of sexual violence over the past five years at the hands of someone they’d communicated with on a dating site.
Since the Roundtable, major dating platforms Match Group and Bumble have taken action to ensure their apps are safer for users.
They have reportedly engaged with law enforcement to help strengthen reporting and referral pathways for users who experience violence over a dating app.
They have also introduced new features to increase user safety, as well as collaborated with Australian women’s safety experts.
Ms Rowland said dating apps are now the most common way to meet a partner in Australia.
“I’m determined that online dating platforms are committed to ending violence against women and I am pleased with recent progress that has been made,” she said.
“Policy options to prevent sexual abuse and violence on online dating services raise complex issues around privacy, user safety and data collection and management.
“That is why it is critical for government’s actions in this space to be evidence based and informed.
“The work we are undertaking will provide the Government a strong evidence base as we consider policy reform options that may be required in this area, and we are committed to continue to consult closely with industry, survivors and experts as this work progresses.”
Ms Rowland last week issued an information request to the top 10 dating services used across Australia about the harms occurring on their sites, and the safety policies and procedures in place to ensure user safety.
She requested information such as the number of reports from users across Australia of sexual harassment or abuse received while using the app, the actions each site takes in response to those reports, and the processes that platforms have in place to prevent banned users from accessing new accounts.
The information requests are a key outcome of the Roundtable which was co-convened by Ms Rowland alongside the Hon Amanda Rishworth, the Minister Social Services.
Further consultation will be informed by the Domestic, Family and Sexual Violence Commissioner, alongside the eSafety Commissioner, Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety and the Australian Institute of Criminology.
Sexuality education and consent activist Chanel Contos is a Roundtable participant, and has engaged with Match Group and WESNET, supporting the work of Bumble.
Ms Contos’ participation responds to a key Roundtable outcome – to empower users with information on safe dating practices.
Ms Rishworth said online dating platforms provide a level of anonymity that can sometimes fuel behaviour that would not normally by tolerated face-to-face.
“One of the crosscutting principles of the National Plan is holding perpetrators to account and this also has to apply to how we look at solutions for safer platforms,” she said.
“We have to start asking ‘why didn’t he change his behaviour’ or ‘how can he change his behaviour’ rather than ‘why didn’t she just report him’ or ‘why did she continue dating him’.
“The four pillars of the National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children of Prevention, Early Intervention, Response and Recovery need to be embedded in the design of these platforms to keep their users safe.”
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