Tinder’s new feature will background check your date

Many dating apps, Tinder included, only require people to use a first name, age and photos on the site. Some sites let users see each other’s full names once they “match,” or both choose each other and are able to start messaging. Others require users exchanging that information themselves.

For years, dating app users, especially women, have come up with their own ways to screen dates. They talk to each other and spread the word about problematic people. Some pay for background-check services, others figure out dates’ full names and Google them relentlessly. When it comes to dates, many make sure that any initial meeting takes place in a crowded public place, and that their friends know where they are and what to do if they don’t check in by a certain time.

Adding Garbo’s service, which will be available to users for a yet-to-be-determined sum, will give women more information before they decide how they want to proceed with dates, said Tracey Breeden, Match’s head of safety and social advocacy.

“This gives them an opportunity and that comfort level,” she said in an interview. “Maybe they want more information before they have a video chat, maybe they want more information before they meet in person.”

Tinder is aware that many users are Googling each other anyway, Breeden said, and this is one more tool for people who are interested.

Lyft, Uber, Airbnb and other apps used to connect people in real life have similarly added safety features in recent years, often after significant criticism. Last month, Uber and Lyft said they would start sharing more information with each other about driver deactivations related to assaults, something victims’ advocates had been pushing for to better protect customers.

Safety on dating sites has been a top-of-mind issue for users for years. A 2020 report from the Pew Research Center found that 60 percent of female users younger than 35 said someone on a dating service continued to contact them, even after they said they weren’t interested. And “a similar share [57 percent] report being sent a sexually explicit message or image they didn’t ask for,” the report says.

The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) points out that dating apps do not conduct criminal background checks on their users, and it encourages online daters to keep safety precautions in mind.

To use Garbo, Tinder users will need to know their date’s first name and phone number, information they presumably get through chatting online or texting. Garbo will then give them a report of that person’s criminal history, pulling from public records.

There are a few intentional limitations to the report. Garbo is focused on violent crimes, said founder and CEO Kathryn Kosmides. It won’t provide any information on drug possession or traffic violations, “which have a disproportionate impact on marginalized groups,” the companies said in a news release.

Garbo wants to stand apart from other background-check services. It won’t provide people’s emails or addresses, in an effort to cut down on doxing and stalking. Kosmides is a survivor of gender-based violence, she said, and met her abuser on a dating app. She was stalked, she said, and doesn’t want to make that easy for anyone else to do — certainly not by using documents pulled from her site.

Her site was actually named, in part, as a dig against competitors. Garbo, short for garbage, was named because Kosmides already owned the Web domain from a past start-up that didn’t launch. But it also refers to how the current systems for background checks, criminal justice and survivors of violence operate, Kosmides said.

“We say that’s what the current systems are: garbage,” she said.

Garbo says it pulls arrests, convictions, orders of protection and other records from publicly available sources and compiles them for consumers. Its goal is to make these records available cheaper and faster than going directly to many public agencies.

“If you’re trying to make a safety decision, you’re not going to pay $95,” Kosmides said. “And you don’t have time to wait six weeks for the results.”

Still, the new feature is likely to raise privacy concerns for some who think Tinder and similar sites already collect more than enough data on users. The sites were part of a House Committee on Oversight and Reform investigation last year, where representatives raised concerns about reports that stated underage users were using the dating services.

Tinder says it will not “ask for or store” users’ background-check information. And it also won’t provide Garbo information to run background checks. All of that has to come from what the user learns while chatting with their match.

Getting automated technology services involved always introduces the risk of mistakes. Breeden, who previously worked as a law enforcement officer and investigator and served as head of global women’s safety at Uber, said Garbo has a verification process for its reports.

“The reality is no background check is perfect,” she said. “And it’s not a silver bullet. People want to be responsible with that information and understand that it is just one more tool to add, and one more tool to having access to information.”

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