7 Important Reasons Why #open Doesn’t Do Background Checks
#open has recently added an in-app notice to all existing and new users that we DO NOT conduct criminal background checks on our users as we believe them to be invasive, ineffective, and misleading. We were required to add this notice for all Connecticut-based users by a new law. Given a number of similar laws percolating in other states, we decided to post this notification to all of our community members.
With newly proposed laws in Utah encouraging dating apps to perform background checks on users, and existing legislation in Connecticut requiring apps to disclose whether or not they perform background checks, we are concerned that online daters are being expected to pay for safety features which don’t really work and that actually strengthen our most racist institutions.
To be clear –– #open does not conduct criminal background checks on users. But background checks have recently been added as a feature users can pay for on certain dating apps. In particular, the Match Group franchise recently made headlines for introducing background checks, with Tinder being the first to roll it out.
Whilst background checks might be used within our present dating app culture for intended safety purposes, according to Albert Fox Cahn, the founder of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, they bypass some fundamental nuances. Here’s why #open doesn’t do them:
1) Most people with a history of domestic and sexual violence do not interact with the criminal justice system.
According to RAINN, an organization that works to prevent sexual violence and support survivors, the majority of sexual assaults are not reported to the police; 2 out of every 3 sexual assaults goes unreported. So, most of the people users should actually be weary of aren’t getting flagged through background checks, suggesting that background checking tools on dating apps are merely a way to perform concern about users’ safety without actually implementing a solution. Furthermore, Tinder and other apps within the Match Group brand have allowed reported sex offenders to remain on their platforms, which doesn’t seem to align with their pro-background check marketing push.
2) Background checks don’t always provide accurate criminal history data.
Garbo, the company that Tinder has partnered with to provide background checks, is a service that takes information from multiple database sources and is known for having inaccuracies and missing data. It’s not even regulated under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which means that people are not guaranteed the ability to view their own records or correct data that isn’t accurate. Users are being told to base safety decisions on potentially untrue, uncontestable, conviction data!
3) Background checks are distorted by discrimination.
Considering the fact that Black and brown people are disproportionately targeted by the police, background checks amplify discrimination against marginalized groups. Criminal history data within the U.S. is irredeemably warped by racism, xenophobia, and other structural biases, giving a deeply flawed view of who we deem as “safe” or “unsafe”.’ Using these background checks only legitimizes inherently racist institutions and allows them to become stronger.
READ MORE: Background Checks Strengthen Our Most Racist Institutions –– Why Are We Putting Them In Dating Apps?
4) Background checks breach users’ rights to privacy.
#open is fiercely protective of users’ data and believes in our members’ right to privacy and anonymity. One thing that makes us unique amongst the most popular dating apps right now is that we do not sell your data to advertisers or any other third party. We will also never trade or provide your data to third parties without explicit disclosure, unless required by law. Unfortunately, there are many accounts of other dating apps and websites using, sharing, and selling personal data in ways that are not only unethical, but fundamentally infringe upon users’ rights. We do not believe it is reasonable for dating apps to have access to their users’ conviction data.
RELATED VIDEO CONTENT VIA NBC CONNECTICUT, STORY CONTINUES BELOW
5) Apps should provide safety solutions for free.
There is an endless list of products which claim to provide safety against interpersonal violence, and they’re most often marketed towards women. But while manufacturers profit off of women’s very real fears of assault, very little is being done to actually reduce violence against women. Asking app members to pay for a service that is meant to keep them safer seems like another instance of this. Instead, we can build safer online communities through education and trauma-informed moderation, and is something we consistently strive towards at #open.
6) Background checks are a form of digital redlining.
Digital redlining refers to the use of digital technologies to expand historical systems of discrimination and exclusion. One example of this lies in the choices Internet Service Providers have made regarding broadband internet infrastructure. By only providing and/or strengthening that infrastructure in wealthy communities, Black and brown neighborhoods receive less access to affordable, high-speed internet access (which is vital for participation in our modern society).
In sum, digital redlining limits the online services that marginalized people have access to. And linking a person’s conviction history to dating apps, when that history is often just a timeline of racist police interactions, prevents marginalized people from safely accessing online dating. Furthermore, it suggests that police in the U.S., who are frequently the enactors of sexual abuse and other forms of interpersonal violence, should play a role in determining who is or isn’t safe to date.
7) They just don’t work!
When we consider how infrequently intimate partner violence and sexual abuse lead to a conviction, it is clear that someone’s criminal record is not an accurate indicator of their potential to cause harm. Human behavior is complex! And a tool users have to spend money on, which can provide very incorrect data, is incapable of creating safety for anyone. Education and community care are needed within these contexts instead.
Although we don’t promote in-app background checks, #open holds safety at the heart of how we operate. The safety of our community members is of the utmost importance. Our users’ experiences should inform our safety policies and we commit to doing our best to protect you. We take reports of harmful and/or suspicious behavior in our community very seriously. This is how we care for everyone.
For more information on how to stay safe online, you can check out #open’s safety tips here and community guidelines here. You can also report users in-app or by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org. We read every single one!
RAINN offers a 24/7 National Sexual Assault Hotline, which is free and confidential, by calling +1(800) 656-4673.
READ: Why Tinder’s Background Check Is A Major Backfire (Fast Company) by Albert Fox Cahn, founder and executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (S.T.O.P.).
WATCH: Background Checks Could Kick Former Felons Off Dating Apps (NBC Connecticut), featuring Keri Blakinger of The Marshall Project.