What does it mean to collect “verified” data on potential romantic partners? There is something to be said about the idea that intimacy is based on the discretion of sharing information with others – deciding how much of you to reveal, when and how – while building trust in a relationship.
Match group – who owns Dating and hookup platforms like Tinder, OKCupid, and Match.com – trying to make it easier to obtain data about potential partners. The company announced this month that it will help users run background checks on possible dates. Tinder users will be the first to get the feature that allows them (for an undisclosed fee) to get public records of a game based only on first and last name or first name and phone number.
This data, provided by a nonprofit company called Garbo, includes “Arrests, convictions, restraining orders, harassment and other violent crimes“To” empower users with information “to protect themselves. Garbo’s website also states that it accepts evidence submitted directly by users.including police reports, protection orders and more“Although it is not clear whether this feature will be integrated into the agreement with Match.
Gender based violence is a serious and widespread problemthat every fourth woman and every ninth man have experienced at some point. Have intimate platforms came under fire for their inaction when users report being attacked by someone they met through the service.
Potential partners sometimes cheat on one another, in both ways trivial and significant. So it’s no wonder that a lot of people already Take steps to screen others before you meet in person – Search for names on Google, read social media profiles, and in some cases even do formal background checks.
It is commendable that the Match Group wants to stop its platforms from spreading sexual violence, and it is attractive to try to use technology to solve the problem. But we should be clear about the compromises. Technological measures that make us appear more secure may not always be as effective as they seem – and they can raise a myriad of concerns about privacy, equity, and the trust-building process necessary to develop true intimacy. If we normalize the practice of creating a dossier of external data points on a person to avoid the risk of deception, we could turn an important aspect of making close connections on its head.
The risks associated with meeting potential partners result in part from the way we are prone to mate today. Before the advent of intimate platforms, more people met through common connections. In these cases, you had a certain amount of knowledge about the person – he is a friend of a friend, I know where she works – that allowed you to draw conclusions about the person, and allow some degree of comfort in the interaction.
Intimate platforms have changed the game: we increasingly meet online. And we may believe that a digital record is a complete, “true” representation of someone. But these types of records are well known nowhere near perfectespecially when they rely on names to match records, as records are often mistakenly assigned to people with the same or a similar name. This usually includes criminal convictions that were later overturned or charges that were eventually dropped. It can be difficult for people with inaccurate records to become aware of, and it is sometimes impossible to achieve the elimination of errors or inconsistencies.
Additionally, a really motivated bad guy can often bypass such guidelines by using a different name or phone number. While background checks may seem like security, they can act more like a security blanket – they can make us feel safe without actually guaranteeing it.
It also has significant social value for people to disclose stigmatizing or embarrassing information in these records. That is the reason behind it “Prohibit the Box” guidelines, which prevent employers from asking about previous convictions when applying for a job, in order to give applicants a fair chance of being hired. The reintegration of people with stains on their files into social life – including intimate relationships – has important social benefits.
Since data collection is often racially disproportionate – especially in connection with the integration of the judicial system – we should also take into account who is most likely to be affected by such measures. Match and Garbo have shown some foresight here: recognizing the discrimination black Americans face in the criminal justice system, they have exclude Drug possession offenses and traffic offenses (other than DUIs and negligent homicide) from their background checks.
But even with these exclusions, excessive surveillance of colored people and racial prejudice available in all phases of the criminal justice system, should give us a significant pause when referring to criminal justice data. We should be extra careful when integrating these records into intimate platforms, whatever may be pages of racial exclusion and harassment.
It’s not hard to see how background checks could open the door to other types of data. Do we want to start screening our partners in the same way that we decide what type of car to buy, who to rent, or who is likely to repay a loan? Do I need to know if someone has filed for bankruptcy or has been married or owns property? Should I be able to sort partners according to their creditworthiness? Introducing this level of data usage into the intimate sphere seems to contradict the way we normally learn from one another – gradually and with the benefit of context.
Match Group is trying to address a real, pressing problem – but we need to think very carefully about what tools are appropriate to combat sexual assault and what impact they could have on user privacy and relationship development. Using data as a weapon against sexual violence can create more problems than it can solve.
Karen Levy (@karen_ec_levy) is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Information Science at Cornell University.