Tinder Lets Known Sex Offenders Use the App. It’s Not the Only One.


Professor Olivier Sylvain was quoted in an article for ProPublica highlighting the risks posed by the lack of background screenings in online dating. Sylvain explains that many companies are protected by CDA 230 and cases of harm between users are sometimes dismissed.

PlentyofFish “does not conduct criminal background or identity verification checks on its users or otherwise inquire into the background of its users,” the dating app states in its terms of use. It puts responsibility for policing its users on users themselves. Customers who sign its service agreement promise they haven’t commited “a felony or indictable offense (or crime of similar severity), a sex crime, or any crime involving violence,” and aren’t “required to register as a sex offender with any state, federal or local sex offender registry.” PlentyofFish doesn’t attempt to verify whether its users tell the truth, according to the company.

The [Communications Decency] act, passed in 1996, when internet companies were nascent and viewed as needing protection, contains a provision, known as CDA Section 230, that was originally intended to protect websites from being held liable for their users’ speech.

Companies, including Match Group, have successfully invoked CDA 230 to shield themselves from liability in incidents involving users harmed by other users, including victims of sexual assault. Internet regulation experts say the measure effectively allows online dating companies to avoid legal repercussions. In the few civil suits accusing Match Group platforms of negligence for online dating sexual assaults, its lawyers have cited CDA 230 to try to dismiss nearly every one, records show.

Olivier Sylvain, a Fordham University law professor who specializes in the ethics of media and technology, believes judges have been so overly generous in interpreting CDA 230 that they dismiss cases before an aggrieved party can even obtain information about the company’s response. “That speaks to how these companies are held unaccountable,” he said.

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