Flawed Online Dating Bill Moves in New Jersey

by on November 20, 2007 · 11 comments

The outcome of yesterday’s hearing on an online dating bill
is succinctly captured by this AP news article headline: New Jersey concedes Internet dating plan,
yet pushes it anyway
.

What? Legislators pass a bill through committee that they know is flawed?

Yes, if they think the sponsor will work to amend it. And The Internet Dating Safety Act (A-4304), the bill I testified against in Trenton yesterday, definitely needs to be fixed.

It’s not that anybody is against online dating safety. We just think that this bill, in its present form, will not create a safer environment for dating site users.

Here’s why. The bill has one particular serious flaw: it has the effect
(if not the intention) of promoting a flawed, unreliable, and incomplete
criminal screening method as a way to increase online dating safety.
Legislators should run away from any bill that promotes criminal screenings. 

Intuitively, a criminal screening would sound like a good
idea. Who can be against more information about a potential date, especially
when it’s their criminal record? But if the information is no good, we have a
garbage-in, garbage-out situation that has the unintended consequence of
providing users of online dating sites with a false sense of security. Indeed,
criminal screenings are: 

  • Incomplete – criminal screenings can create false
    negatives when criminal records don’t appear or may not include felony arrests
    that were plead down to misdemeanors; and
  • Not Inclusive – many counties don’t even report their
    criminal records to a publicly accessible central database. For instance, in Illinois only 4 out of
    102 counties report to a centralized database accessible to companies that
    perform background screenings. Do we know what the database reporting situation
    is in New Jersey?

When I went to testify in Illinois, one member off a House Judiciary committee, an ex-FBI agent, understood the failures of screenings that are conducted with a name only. He differentiated criminal screenings with the more thorough and reliable background check (based on social security number, date of birth, fingerprints, employment history, etc.) and helped persuade his colleagues that a dating bill that promotes screenings would create more harm than good. 

So what’s the better approach? Or to go back to first principles, do we need legislation in the first place? Nine other states that have considered this bill have not passed it, including such states as California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Texas and Virginia. These states recognize that the market is working to help provide the necessary information for the adults using this site to do so safely. All the major online dating sites, including Yahoo! Personals and Match.com, provide safety tips about communicating with strangers and face-to-face meetings. 

Unfortunately, bills gain momentum even when they’re not needed. Originally, True.com–the one dating site that does provide criminal screenings–pushed these bills that help promote their business model. That’s because if you don’t provide screenings, you have to advertise this fact over and over, in 12 point font, on every member page, email and instant message between members, and on the registration page. But if you do criminal screenings, you can bury the failures of these screenings in small type font somewhere in the terms of service.(read this revealing NY Times article about the chicanery of True.com)

It’s disparate regulatory treatment against one way of doing business in favor of another. After all, consumers can choose to pay for and use a site that does conduct screenings, or he or she can choose not to. It all depends on the value proposition – or should, but regulation skews this value
proposition. Here’s how. 

If consumers see a state mandated warning on the page of one
company that doesn’t do screenings, over and over again, they’re going to think
something is wrong. They’ll search out a site that does these screenings,
and they’ll not read about the failures of criminal screenings because these will be buried
in the terms of service. The result – a mistaken sense of safety. 

Legislators in New Jersey, if inclined to pass an online dating safety bill, should: 

  • ensure that Internet dating services provide dating safety information on their websites; and
  • make sure Internet dating companies that use criminal screenings warn users of the failings of these screenings, so users don’t have a false sense of security.

If New Jersey is to be the first state to pass online dating legislation, then let’s
get it done right. 

  • SWM

    What do I do if I want to date a criminal. I think chicks that have done jail time are hot! I propose a site where you can search their criminal record. I’m looking for a SF brunette who’s has at least one armed robbery conviction (plea downs are also acceptable) proof of criminal record required.

  • SWM

    What do I do if I want to date a criminal. I think chicks that have done jail time are hot! I propose a site where you can search their criminal record. I’m looking for a SF brunette who’s has at least one armed robbery conviction (plea downs are also acceptable) proof of criminal record required.

  • LBD

    Heh… Personally I think that a more.. aggressive personal info on dating sites approach should be used. That is, SSN at the very least (or equivelent for other countries)

    Then again, data safety becomes important.

  • LBD

    Heh… Personally I think that a more.. aggressive personal info on dating sites approach should be used. That is, SSN at the very least (or equivelent for other countries)

    Then again, data safety becomes important.

  • http://www.devilcalledlove.com Dating Commonsense

    Screenings legislation will never work despite the good intentions. It's too easy for anyone to bypass.

  • http://ezinearticles.com/?Read-a-Wartrol-Review---The-Genital-Wart-Symptoms-Fighter?&id=1469686 Watrol Review Gal

    This sounds like such a great idea until you think of how many loop holes there would be in the system. Its important to make on-line dating safe but you still have be cautious.

  • http://www.filipina-lady.net Filipina

    There are federal laws that govern online dating…many believe it is a violation of our constitutional rights and there is movement to change the law. Not sure I can post the link here for a site that you need to visit to learn more (it is not my site), but here it is. http://www.online-dating-rights.com

    Our rights keep being taken away in favor of special interest groups morality or at least what a few think is moral.

  • http://yesmessengerchat.unblog.fr/2007/05/18/yes-messenger-chat-reserves-aux-adultes-gratuit yes messenger

    Way to many flaws ar possible in this screening legislation. And what about the privacy? I hate the approach “once a criminal always a criminal”, but one should know already that legislators aren't always that logical.

  • http://www.plmania.com online dating

    As the owner of adult service myself I can say for sure that a false sense of security is the worst thing for all our members looking for the best matchmaking online. At the same time I hate the bad approach “once a criminal always a criminal” either!

  • http://www.curvydate.co.uk/ Plus size singles

    Quite right, the country is being turned into a nanny state. You cannot legislate morality.

  • http://www.curvydate.co.uk/ Plus size singles

    Quite right, the country is being turned into a nanny state. You cannot legislate morality.

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