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

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.

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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.”

If you or anyone you know needs support, you can contact the National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service on 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732).

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