Is Match.com Now Hitting All Privacy Fronts With New Sex Offender Screening?

Match.com took a leap past other dating sites when it announced this week it will begin screening members against the national sex offender registry.  Will the extra screening step put members at ease and bolster the sagging popularity of online dating, or raise even more privacy concerns?

The change in policy by the popular dating site comes after a California woman filed a lawsuit against the website last week, saying she was sexually assaulted by a man she met through Match.com. The woman alleged her attack could have been prevented if the site performed a criminal background check on the man.

Online dating sites have always held themselves accountable for protecting members from fake accounts and handling complaints about other members, but Match’s actions are a first for performing background checks on their members.

Mandy Ginsberg, president of Match.com, told The Associated Press that the company had considered such screenings for years, but “their historical unreliability has always led us to conclude against it.”

Recent improvements to screening technology prompted the site to make the change, but Ginsberg warned members the checks remain “highly flawed” and should “not provide a false sense of security.”

The new policy will be implemented over the next 60 to 90 days and will apply to current and new members, said Match.

Left unsaid is what other vetting Match.com or comparable sites could take on next, from credit reports to bankruptcy filing, criminal records or taxes.

Also left as an unsecured question mark is what a site like Match or eHarmony would do with that information it has compiled.

Would the information be secure and fall under the sites’ standard privacy policies?  Left open to members?  Or would it be a boon to third parties and others who now have those public records compiled in one place?

Match officials did not accompany news of the new screening policies with any announcements of changes to the site’s privacy policy.

Like most dating websites, Match.com does not give much more information than a blind date to members, something that could be good – not much data collected and stored by the site – or bad – safety concerns – depending on one’s perspective.

The current privacy policy, however, does come with a few caveats on when, how, and to whom it retains the right to release members’ information:

“We will not share your personal information with others except as indicated below, or except when we inform you in advance and give you the opportunity to opt out. We may share personal information with:

  • Service providers, such as credit-card payment processors, performing services on our behalf;
  • Other IAC businesses;
  • Other businesses with which we partner or which we carefully select to offer you products, services, and promotions through our website or offline; and
  • Other third parties in limited circumstances, such as complying with legal requirements, preventing fraud, and protecting the safety of our users.”

And the information the site may share, as its policy states, includes, “information that can identify you (“personal information”), such as your name and email address,” and the caveat that the site, “may combine the personal information that we receive from different sources.”

Match members have the right to not provide personal information, but not the right, as far as we know, to decline a screening.

Match’s move notably comes at a time when the once-booming online dating industry finds itself faltering, with growth down 58 percent this year alone, according to the U.S.-based site Socialone.com.

Part of that decline could be a spate of bad press around safety and privacy on the sites, so will this move by Match help regain users’ trust, or set itself up for failure?

Tell us what you think.  Does screening for sex offenders on an online dating site make you feel more secure?  Or more worried about what could come?

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