I’ve been following Fast Company online for a couple of years to keep up with the latest news in business, technology, environmental breakthroughs, medical advancements, and all other topics affecting our daily lives that may be of interest to some or all. The company recently published its World Changing Ideas for 2023, which honors businesses and organizations driving change in the world.
One of the winners for 2023 was honoring the partnership between Match Group and Garbo. Anyone who knows me personally will figure out that when I saw the name “Garbo,” it immediately caught my eye even though Greta has been dead for over 30 years. So, I curiously checked out the Garbo website and found out how timely and important the services it provides in today’s dating world. In fact, I’m positive Garbo herself would have been proud that the company’s service is so valuable in an electronic age where often the one behind the screen is not really who he or she professes to be.
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Online dating has become the norm and at least 16 million people today use the apps of Match Group, the world’s largest dating conglomerate, which owns Tinder, Hinge, and OkCupid. However, meeting strangers after limited online conversation can be risky and if you watch the ID channel on Prime like I do, it often can become deadly.
It makes sense that there needs to be some precautions to take before meeting a stranger in person no matter how long that stranger has been chatting or texting online. According to Kathryn Kosmides, founder and CEO of Garbo, which describes itself as a digital safety nonprofit, “Dating is one of the most vulnerable times.” Kosmides herself suffered multiple instances of “gender-based violence,” which led her to launch the site in 2018, amid the #MeToo movement.
And, in 2022, Match partnered with Garbo to allow users access to background checks of new matches before meeting anyone in person. With minimal information — usually just a first name and a phone number — users are transferred to Garbo’s website, where they can access public background records “to see if that person has anything that would be concerning for you in order to go out with them,” says Kayla Whaling, director of trust and safety communications at Match Group.
Match started to “ramp up safety a few years ago,” Whaling says, after concerns over daters’ safety, including governmental inquests. In 2020, a House Oversight Committee called on Match to check its users against sex offender registries following various reports of sexual violence stemming from its apps.
Match initially rolled out the feature with Tinder, and last year expanded to Plenty of Fish, its namesake app for Match, as well as Stir, its app primarily for single parents. After two free searches, the background checks cost $3.25 each, which goes directly to Garbo. Garbo doesn’t show any personal information like home addresses or any nonviolent crimes, like drug offenses or speeding tickets. But it will surface violent crimes, such as arrests for domestic abuse, as well as if the potential match is on sex offender registries. (This is all public information, and Match says it does not permanently store any users’ background-check data.)
Users can report offenders to Match, which Whaling says will take action to remove them across all its portfolio sites.
I curiously checked out the Garbo website, www.garbo.io, to read up about the company because anything that promotes safety is high on my wish list. It’s critical for anyone planning to meet someone they’ve talked to online even after hours, days and years of phone or computer conversation, including video chats. Garbo’s service does the background checking for you and gives you a slight peace of mind about exactly who you are talking to once they respond back to you after a check. However, the website cautions that, “A ‘no records found’ result in Garbo means that we were unable to locate any arrests, convictions, or sex offender registry data in our system. Certain non-violent offenses, like marijuana possession or vagrancy (homelessness), are filtered out of the results we show on Garbo to create a more equitable solution.”
Garbo has access to over 1 billion public records including arrests, convictions, and sex offender registry data. However, some counties limit access to this information, which may limit its ability to provide these records to users outside of the U.S.
Another word of caution from Garbo: “We also know that 20% of human-to-human crimes are reported — and less than 1% of those ends in convictions. This means that many violent individuals do not have records on their violence—so we always recommend being cautious.”
The website has plenty of advice on how to proceed when dating digitally and quizzes that may answer a question one might have before a face-to-face meeting. And for those already in a relationship, there are also quizzes to help make decisions, i.e., “Red Flags in a Relationship.”
There was even a section on senior dating and the top three sites to check out are Match, eHarmony and SilverSingles. Options range from totally free dating sites to the more popular tiered membership site that has different pricing based on the membership you pick. Usually, a free basic membership will let you create a profile with the standard features, but some sites will require a paid membership for you to interact with potential matches.
Be sure to check the features that come with each tier before punching in your credit card info and also make sure to research the site and the reviews online, including using the BBB or a simple google search of “[online dating site name] reviews.” Sadly, there are some dating sites targeted toward seniors or are scams or fraudulent, so it’s vital to check out the site before you give out any personal data. And this includes the person you chat with — don’t be quick to give out information. In fact, Garbo recommends that a video chat is a necessity before you meet anyone in person. That handsome or beautiful person you’ve been talking with online may be a model who has had his or her picture stolen and used for reeling you in. Stay safe!
Peg DeMarco is a Morganton resident who writes a weekly features column for The News Herald. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.