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Why's Plan to Screen for Sexual Predators Is Going to Bite Back

When a member of the popular dating site sued it for negligence last week after she was allegedly sexually assaulted by another member, came up with a plan: It would start screening users against the sexual offenders registry. Unfortunately, has jumped on a slippery slope that could easily begin invading member privacy and alienate potential customers. Worse, the new policy won't even fully protect the members it has.

Like most dating websites, gives a little bit more information than a blind date. This is the risk that comes with dating online and, frankly, with dating offline, too. By vetting its members at all, is making itself more vulnerable to lawsuits. What if another alleged sexual assault happens after changes its screening process? Wasn't it supposed to be creating a safe environment? It's setting itself up for failure.

It also could lead to or comparable sites vetting members too much with public or semi-public information including:

  • Credit reports
  • Bankruptcy
  • Criminal records
  • Taxes
Now, this awful sexual attack may create a cottage industry for "safe" dating websites -- after all, more odd niches are being filled, like Ashley Madison, which caters to married people who want to have affairs.

The bigger issue I see is if more mainstream dating websites like decide to police their membership, potential or current members may not be aware of why they were not accepted or were booted out of the club. Imagine eHarmony not allowing someone to join because she has a felony, but not being required to tell her why.

To take it a step further, who knows what an eHarmony would do with the information once someone is not accepted onto the site. Will the information be secure? The information is technically public, but having all of someone's dirt in one place is much easier than digging around in multiple sources.

In all, probably believes it is reacting nobly to a reportedly awful crime. In reality, it is just making itself more vulnerable to lawsuits -- and online daters to more evasive screening in the future.

Photo courtesy of loop_oh // CC 2.0

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