A government minister has claimed that “dating apps and website companies” are among the firms to have received advice from government tech policy experts – but no specific guidance or initiatives have been targeted at the sector.
According to minister for digital and culture, Caroline Dinenage, “over the past few weeks, the Digital Tech Policy directorate within DCMS have been holding Coordinating Communications and Support teleconferences with key stakeholders” across the technology industry to help guide and assist its coronavirus response.
The DCMS secretary of state, Oliver Dowden, has spoken frequently about the department’s work with social media platforms to try and combat the spread of disinformation and misinformation.
Dating applications and websites clearly present a different risk in the current environment. Plaid Cymru MP Jonathan Edwards tabled a written parliamentary question asking DCMS what guidance it had issued to operators in the online dating sector “to help ensure that people do not use those services to arrange to meet up in person in contravention of social distancing measures during the Covid-19 outbreak”.
In response, Dinenage referenced a range of industry bodies that DCMS experts have engaged with, including techUK, Tech Nation, the Internet Association, and the British Computer Society.
“Dating apps and website companies are amongst their membership,” she added. The government has issued clear guidance to businesses and the general public on how to respond to the current situation and this guidance is kept up to date on GOV.UK. We would expect everyone to be aware of social distancing guidance and to be doing their best to follow it.”
When asked by PublicTechnology, DCMS clarified that no specific guidance has been issued to internet dating companies about how they should behave during the current crisis.
For their part, some of the major players in the sector have proactively issued advice for users urging them not to arrange physical meet-ups.
On 24 March, Tinder chief executive Elie Seidman wrote a blog outlining that the popular app had “updated our guidance to strongly encourage that new connections stay digital for now”.
But he stressed that users could still use the platform to find and chat to people – especially given that it has now temporarily removed all fees for its passport service, which allows users to connect with anyone around the world, rather than simply nearby.
“While it not a moment to be meeting matches in person, we recognise that Tinder – a platform that is about connection – can play an important role as people navigate the uncertainty that Covid-19 has introduced into our everyday lives,” he said. “A new connection can make a world of difference, and having a conversation with someone, no matter where they are, helps us feel a little less alone.”
The UK website of Match.com, meanwhile, has created a section dedicated to ‘Lockdown Dating’, with various posts providing advice for users.
“[Lockdown] allows singles to resume searching for love using the dating site and app of their choice,” it said. “One thing is sure: there’s no risk of contracting or spreading the coronavirus from browsing the profiles of singles! Of course, you’ll have to wait a little longer to enjoy face-to-face dating, but for the moment nothing is stopping you from staying at home and experiencing love from a distance.”
Data from Statista suggests that more 40% of men and 30% of women in the UK are current or former users of online dating services.