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Match.com's Sex Offender Screening May Be Marginally Better Than Nothing

By Erika Morphy
Apr 18, 2011 2:59 PM PT

Dating website Match.com has announced it will shortly begin checking existing and new members against public sex offender registries. The move follows on the heels of a lawsuit filed by a woman who says she was sexually assaulted by a sex offender -- a man she met through Match.com.

Match.com's Sex Offender Screening May Be Marginally Better Than Nothing

The move is a departure for Match.com -- as it would be for other sites in this category, which have avoided offering such services for a variety of reasons. Cost is mostly likely one; another, perhaps, is the possibility of becoming legally liable for failure to screen out an offender.

For its part, Match.com, which declined to comment further to the E-Commerce Times, said it did not implement background checks in the past because the technology was too unreliable.

That was then, though. Now it has decided to move forward, because the technology and databases have sufficiently improved.

More Reliable Data

There is something to that explanation, said Robert Siciliano, CEO of IDTheftSecurity.com.

"So much more data has been compiled in the past five years," he told the E-Commerce Times. Now "it may be more reliable due to aggregation/data brokers using more sophisticated tools combining social media/email addresses and so on."

False Sense of Security

That said, the measure is at best a minor safeguard against the dangers of meeting strangers, whether on the Internet or anywhere else. For a determined sexual predator, circumventing a background check with a false identity "would be child's play," noted Siciliano.

A background check could also backfire, because it would create a false sense of security, Sandy Glover, CEO of Gold Shield Legal Investigations, told the E-Commerce Times.

Then again, a lot of dating sites already try to imply there is some kind of background screening going on, she added, which causes some customers to relax their guard.

"I am of the mind that something is better than nothing, even if it is an imperfect solution," said Glover. "In fact, I would think if more of these websites offered such a service, it might attract more users who had been afraid to use these sites before."

That has been the experience of one dating website for seniors, for which Glover is now setting up a process for background checks.

"People want to know some kind of check has been done," she said.

Even if a background check is an imperfect solution, it still adds any additional layer of security, Siciliano pointed out.

"Doing nothing is a poor option," he said. "Also, consider that not every sex offender is tech-savvy, and some will get banned. Further, there are great technologies such as "device reputation" that will identify a user's device and will allow for the banning of that device once they are deemed a risk."

New Model for the Industry

For these reasons, along with a very healthy fear of more litigation, other dating websites are likely to follow Match.com's lead, said Peter Berlin of the Law Office of Peter Berlin.

Indeed, the latter may be the driving motivation, he added. These companies are "likely making a cost/benefit analysis in appearing to provide some modicum of security, so they can say that they have done something to screen potential problems."

They should offer some scanning no matter what the reason, said Siciliano.

"There is already an implied "they must be good if Match let them on," giving the [potential sex offender] credibility.


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