Plans To Ask Users If They're Sexual Predators

from the yeah,-that'll-work dept

We noted recently an odd lawsuit against from a woman who was sexually assaulted by a man she met via the service. The company is almost certainly protected via Section 230 from liability, but with a bit of interesting timing, announced plans to start screening users’ names against a sexual predator database. This seems like the sort of quickly slapped together ideas that sound good until you think through the details. And, thankfully, the folks over at the EFF have thought through the details and are pointing out how deeply flawed’s idea is:

There are several glaring flaws with’s plan. For one, can’t prevent sexual assault by screening for sex offenders. But even if’s goal is merely to check whether users are on a registered sex offender list, rather than to actually prevent assault, runs into the difficulty that many people who use the site may not use their real names. And while a portion of’s services require a form of payment, a user looking to conceal her identity might simply use someone else’s credit card to purchase a subscription. For this plan to work, will likely need to move to a real name policy, similar to Facebook’s. And often a legal name may not be enough to establish one’s identity — could well need to collect other data points, like address or phone number, to truly figure out which “John Smith” has registered for their site. (Of note: a quick search through the sex offender registries for the name “John Smith” returns dozens of results.) This will be a change for you can currently sign up for an account without providing your real name and there’s nothing in the terms of service that requires an individual to provide her real name.

And the real flaw in plan is the most obvious: criminals who want to use for nefarious purposes could use a false identity to set up service. So while law abiding citizens searching for love are handing over loads of personal data to, those with criminal intent are unlikely to provide real information about themselves when signing up for the site.

The post goes on to highlight numerous other problems, and note that “doesn’t promise to safeguard user data,” in the company’s privacy policy — so with any verification process almost certainly involving handing over a lot more data, the whole plan seems dangerous from a privacy perspective:

It’s an affront to privacy masquerading as a safety feature.

This sort of thing, by the way, is exactly the kind of thing we’ll be discussing at the Techdirt Insight Dinner salon on May 18th, where one of the key points is to better figure out how companies can and should deal with the data they’re collecting, without trampling on privacy issues.

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Comments on “ Plans To Ask Users If They're Sexual Predators”

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Marcel de Jong (profile) says:

Re: Re: Yea, that's going to work

Nope, no joke.

From the ESTA itself:

“C) Have you ever been or are you now involved in espionage or sabotage; or in terrorist activities; or genocide; or between 1933 and 1945 were you involved, in any way, in persecutions associated with Nazi Germany or its allies?”

(first click “Apply”, then accept the disclaimers to see the question for yourself)

btw, filling out that Visa Waiver costs a (Non-US) visitor to the US $14 per 2 years, “to promote tourism” or so they claim.

Joe Publius (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Yes. Be prepared to lie your face off if you decide to sign up for

As a side, I just don’t know how this dating thing could get so complicated. I mean I guess I don’t see how dating from an online matchmaker is any less risky than any other public meeting between two relative strangers.

Makes me glad I found the right lady early on.

anonymous coward says:

as a sex offender....

I’ve been a registered sex offender for 12 years now (due to having sex with my girlfriend who was a freshman in high school when I was a senior)

This new adam walsh act that was passed now requires my email, instant message, cell phone, license plate, company name and address, and school name and address also be public on the registry. (it also changes me to lifetime even though i was supposed to be removed in a few years) is the first step. I fully anticipate sites like facebook pretty much banning me from the web as well. How does that keep people safe? Eventually it will reach the point where I’ll have to use a fake name (a 2 year minimum felony for me under the new law) just to use the internet for the course of doing my job every day.

Christopher (profile) says:

Re: as a sex offender....

This espouses exactly why the sex offender registry is counterproductive.

90% or more of the people on it are on it for consensual relationships as teenagers or for consensual relationships between them and children/teenagers.

The fact is that very few of the people on the sex offender registry should truly be on it, and the added pressure from being on it just makes them MORE likely to offend as they are unable to find jobs and have a normal life because of one mistake.

fapper john says:

Re: as a sex offender....

Check the TOS for Facebook again. It is already unallowable for you to have an account if you were ever on the sexual offender’s list
(I know…who reads TOS forms these days?) Don’t be surprised if your account just vanishs one day, you have been warned…in the TOS…which nobody reads….


anonymous coward says:

not a checkbox

FYI, it’s not a checkbox. Under the new law (adam walsh act) that requires sex offenders to submit all their email addresses or go to prison for 2 years, ANY company can submit a list of email addresses through an API and it will return those that belong to sex offenders.

Pretty much any web site will be able to see if somebody is on the registry, however they won’t know why. It won’t differentiate between those caught peeing in public, or teens who had sex with each other and those on parole for rape.

Peter S. Chamberlain (profile) says:

Sex Offenders etc. on etc.

Most of the offenders are not on the sex offender registry for the simple reason that their victims didn’t endure what is required to prosecute them, were too young at the time, can’t identify them, etc. Most sex offenses occur within the immediate or near extended family, or other relationships of trust and confidence. Several I know about involve incestuous rape committed by elected and high appointed officials, candidates, and politicians palmed off on us by both political parties, and there has been troubling evidence that both parties knew about some notable cases and covered for each other/s “perps,” as well as their own, in a kind of “Mexican standoff.”

stacyhiggins (profile) says:


Ok, I was on for almost six months and after five dates, I could safely say that site is full of weirdos and creeps. Maybe it’s just my age range, but the majority of people I conversed with just seemed a little off. Perhaps that’s why they were utilizing online dating in the first place, but I really was expecting something better. And my girlfriends tell me that all the dating sites are like that! I mean, on eHarmony, you don’t even have a say in your matches… They’re just given to you! I think I’ll stick to meeting guys the old fashioned way. Drunk and at a club! Lol.

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