Online dating has become one of the defining leisure activities of the modern age, with the income from this industry projected to reach close to a mind-boggling $10 billion over the next five years. The incredible rise in the potency of something that didn’t even exist until the mid-1990s is down to so many factors, but you only have to consider what is involved with digital dating to understand its appeal.
The new era of virtual dating and problems arising
There are dating sites catering to every possible taste in relationships, casual or long-term, straight or LGBTQ, together with limitless ‘niche interests,’ giving newcomers access to a pool of potential talent, in any corner of the globe, and all from the convenience of home, or wherever they happen to be accessing their smart device. Naturally, a pursuit that is enjoyed by one-in-three of all singles will encounter its fair share of issues. Sure, online dating is gradually becoming the ‘default’ method for social interaction, especially in light of the pandemic, but there are also longstanding concerns over fake profiles, scamming, infringement of privacy, and loss of data, to name but a few of the headaches faced by dating company lawyers. Here are some of the typical legal problems faced.
Site users being targeted in different countries
Because online dating has rocketed in popularity, so has its attractiveness as an outlet for cyber-criminals. Dating apps such as Tinder often find matches for their members via Facebook connections. Lawyers for sites like this often face questions about jurisdiction – who is ultimately responsible for looking
after members’ interests in separate countries. US-based companies manage to avoid European data protection laws by engaging a legal loophole known as ‘jurisdictional arbitrage.’This argues that the site data is only ever used in the USA in a single location. This autonomy is how the dating company lawyers avoid any liability under new legislation relevant to European users – specifically the General Data Protection Regulation – that is aimed at boosting the ability of dating site users in Europe to control who has access to their data.
Issues with gay dating apps
One demographic that has been particularly enthusiastic about the convenience of online dating has been the gay community. As a marginalized group still facing lingering prejudice, and a lack of socializing opportunities compared to their straight counterparts, LGBTQ people have embraced a plethora of sites aimed at same-sex, bisexual, or transsexual partnerships. But one prominent recent case concerned a criminal who was using a gay dating platform, Grindr, to facilitate introductions to men who were subsequently victims of his criminal actions. But the dating company lawyers in question responded to families of the victims who engaged in legal proceedings against the police for failing to link the cases. The position they adopted was they could no more be held responsible for the individual choices than gun manufacturers could be blamed for gun crimes.
Keeping abreast of technology
Unfortunately, widespread and flexible access to dating sites as a convenient platform for meeting partners has led to an increase in criminal activity. Date rape and sexual assault connected to dating apps have been reported,
opening up a new dimension for law enforcement. Whole new departments have been launched to delve into digital activity. Site administrators are having to consider areas of liability – even the likes of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has found himself appearing before the US Senate and the European Parliament in the context of accountability. This illustrates how difficult it has been for traditional political processes to keep abreast of technology. Who is ultimately responsible for crimes instigated by online introductions – the app creators, managing dating apps that harvest data from millions of members, generating vast profits via advertising? Or the perpetrators who can target victims so readily.
Incidents like this may have exposed grey areas in the law where dating companies are concerned, but they have also prompted an even more proactive approach to managing the wellbeing of their clients. Safety tips have been an integral part of online dating since the first commercial site was launched, but this has become a more crucial aspect of these outlets as technology has evolved, and the increasing popularity of mainstream dating sites has attracted anti-social as well sociable users.
As well as providing access to the personal profiles of other singles, dating resources are publishing a range of background information aimed at ensuring a satisfactory experience for all who register. Typically, there will be advice about arranging initial get-togethers in public places, avoiding excessive alcohol during dates, and outlining the steps that can be taken to report suspicious activity. Because online dating is such a potentially lucrative income stream, it is up to the companies and their legal teams to ensure robust security measures are in place.