Dating apps ‘on notice’ as government calls for red flag functions

Dating apps are being urged to deliver real-time red flag warnings to users they think are in danger and introduce “nudge” functions to caution people who use abusive language, as Australian governments push to improve women’s safety online.

Communications Minister Michelle Rowland has warned the multimillion-dollar tech companies behind popular dating apps such as Tinder, Hinge, Bumble and Grindr – which are collectively used by 3 million Australians – they must improve their platforms or face tougher laws and regulations.

Online dating is exposing more people to sexual harassment and violence.

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An Australian Institute of Criminology Data survey of 10,000 Australians last year showed almost three in four dating app users had experienced technology-facilitated sexual abuse, while 27 per cent reported experiencing in-person sexual violence by a person they met online, including incidents of sexual assault, coercion and drink spiking.

The tech companies did not make any concrete commitments at an online dating roundtable led by the federal government in Sydney on Wednesday, which was attended by dating app executives as well as police, state and territory government representatives and women’s safety stakeholders.

But Rowland said a collaborative discussion had identified clear areas for change including improving safety for minority groups – such as people with a disability, people from diverse backgrounds and older women – as well as complaint handling and applying artificial intelligence to weed out poor behaviour.

“Over 3 million Australians are using [dating apps]… The most common place to meet a new partner is actually online and using these apps. We need to bring the industry with us together as much as we can,” Rowland said at a press conference on Wednesday.

“The industry is well aware that they are on notice, not only in terms of [regulation], but also legislative frameworks that have been indicated by my state counterparts as well… [Complaints] cannot go into the bottom drawer and just be ignored. We need industry to improve their action, their transparency and their accountability.”

The NSW state government is also pushing for tighter identification and verification requirements after the alleged murder of Sydney teacher Dannielle Finlay-Jones in December by a man she met on a dating app.

Rowland said she would speak with federal, state and territory attorneys-general to look at criminal justice responses, and that the government would investigate law enforcement, privacy and data issues before it decided to force disclosure of users with criminal backgrounds.

Australia’s eSafety commissioner Julie Inman Grant – who will work with Rowland’s department to collect data from the apps and identify key gaps – said no online dating companies were meeting all of Australia’s online safety standards.

She said apps should better use their artificial intelligence capabilities to scan language, and then nudge users when they do something harmful or issue red flags when they identify a user could be in danger.

Inman Grant will write to companies within the next two months to demand detail around how many people using their apps are perpetrating abuse, including sexual assault, sexual harassment and sending explicit images without consent. She also wants data on the efficacy of their prevention tools and their plans for weeding out repeat offenders.

“[The apps] don’t want to share absolute numbers. They may not be seeking out [that] information because what they don’t know about, they don’t have to address,” she said. There was also a disincentive to improving user empowerment tools because of the cost.

“We need to change the incentives around protecting profits to actually protecting the human beings… If I don’t get total transparency, I have legal compulsion powers that I used against the big major platforms that I can also use again,” she said.

Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth said the apps should also encourage education around respect for women and consent, a move welcomed by Teach Us Consent founder Chanel Contos who said companies had a responsibility to invest in public education.

A spokeswoman for Match Group – the multibillion-dollar company that owns Tinder, Hinge, Match.com and OkCupid – said it had this week released a new dating safety guide for an Australian context.

“We remain focused on building safety in everything we do, from leveraging technology to investing in moderation and machine learning tools to partnering with leading safety experts and building innovative in-app safety features,” she said. “We will continue to work with local officials to sustain and enhance our safety efforts.”

A Bumble spokeswoman said it had introduced some safety features such as an artificial intelligence tool that blurred lewd images and in-app calls that prevented users from having to share personal phone numbers.

“We know that domestic and sexual violence is not only an enormous problem in Australia, but across the world, and that women, members of LGBQTIA+ communities, and First Nations are the most at risk,” she said.

“We remain steadfast in our commitment to trust and safety across our community, continuing to help educate our members on ways to remain safe on and off of our platform.”

( Information from politico.com was used in this report. Also if you have any problem of this article or if you need to remove this articles, please email here and we will delete this immediately. [email protected] )

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