Today, Columbia Journalism Investigations published, with ProPublica and Buzzfeed, a 16-month investigation into Dallas’ Match Group. The takeaway: lax screening processes at apps like Tinder, PlentyofFish, and OKCupid leave users vulnerable to encountering repeat sexual predators, and Match could do more to make things safer.
The problem isn’t at the flagship Match.com, where users are fed through sex offender registries. But that practice doesn’t extend to other brands under its umbrella. CJI’s narrative weaves around Mark Papamechail, who thrice pled guilty to rape and yet continued to pop up on the company’s services. We also get a glimpse into Match’s apparently feeble attempts to take action or even provide information, such as conversation logs, when users accuse other users of assault.
The company says that it “definitely” has sex offenders on its free products. A Match Group lobbyist told CJI that screening online dating users is “incredibly hard” because all a sex offender has to do is provide a false name. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean the offenders would, or that the burden has to shift 100 percent toward users. And surely there’s a genius willing to build us facial recognition software that checks new profiles against registry mugshots. Just to close that fake-name loophole a little tighter.
Several former security executives told CJI that such screenings would be a feasible way to help prevent online dating sexual assault — if the company invested the resources. For example, they and other experts say Match Group, which expects to make around $800 million in profits this year by one measure, could purchase an application program interface, or API, from a third-party vendor to allow it to check its users against the nearly 900,000 registered sex offenders in the U.S.
And then there’s the results of CJI’s survey, which is buried pretty far into the story, I assume because of all the qualifiers they rightly include. Regardless, it’s not a great look:
Because no one collects official statistics on online dating sexual assault in the U.S., CJI surveyed more than 1,200 women who said they had used a dating platform in the past 15 years. It is a non-scientific questionnaire about an underreported crime, and the results represent only CJI’s specific group. They are not generalizable and cannot be extrapolated to all online dating subscribers. (Read the survey’s methodology at the end of this story.) Among this small group, more than a third of the women said they were sexually assaulted by someone they had met through a dating app. Of these women, more than half said they were raped.
For my money, CJI handles a difficult topic with care and balance, holding Match Group to account without overstating their findings. These are issues our corporate inhabitant will want to address. Give it all a read and draw your own conclusions here.