A sacred part of the modern mating ritual is the Google search. Unless you are Meghan, who swears she didn’t look up Prince Harry before their first date, it’s par for the course to find out all you can about a potential love interest before meeting them in person. Now Tinder, and other Match Group-owned apps, are making things easier for armchair detectives: they have partnered with a non-profit called Garbo so users in the US can run background checks on their matches. All you need is a full name or a first name and phone number and up comes his or her chequered past.
Should we be finding ways to make online dating safer? Absolutely. Is this the right way to do it? I am unconvinced. Not least because it seems you will have to pay for this feature, which will add a whole new dimension to victim-blaming. They went on a date without paying for a background check? What did they expect? Dating apps should be the ones responsible for ensuring known sex abusers don’t use their services; this shifts the burden of responsibility on to the user.
There is a lot to like about Garbo. It was founded by a female survivor of gender-based violence with the noble aim of preventing such violence. And it has been thoughtful about what sort of background information it divulges. You won’t see traffic tickets or arrests related to drug possession, for example, because Garbo doesn’t want to inadvertently exacerbate racial bias. A disproportionate number of Black people are arrested for substance possession and, Garbo claims: “There is no link between drug possession and gender-based violence.” (That last point seems debatable.) In short, Garbo has good intentions, but the road to digital hell is paved with good intentions.
Garbo is now involved with an incredibly exploitative industry that has a history of scraping your personal data and giving it to third parties without your informed consent. So, while I applaud the sentiment, I do worry about the unintended consequences.