Popular dating apps like Tinder, Bumble, and Hinge have been put “on notice” and ordered to make their platforms safer – or risk the government forcing their hand.
The Albanese government has told the apps they must work together to create a voluntary industry code of practice to ensure the platforms are strong enough to deter predators and criminals.
The voluntary code would need to include commitments to improving engagement with law enforcement, supporting at-risk users, improving safety policies and practices, and greater transparency about harms.
If the apps fail to create the code of conduct by mid-2024, or the code is not strong enough, the government will introduce new legislation that covers the same key areas.
The government has defended making the code “voluntary”, saying there was a “balancing act” between supporting innovation and making the apps safer.
Research from the Australian Institute of Criminology found three in four people using online dating platforms had experienced some form of sexual violence facilitated by the platforms, including sexual harassment, abusive or threatening language, image-based sexual abuse, and stalking.
Communications Minister Michelle Rowland said with dating apps now the “most common way” to meet a partner, the platforms “must do their part to end violence against women”.
She warned the industry that they were “on notice”.
“If the code is not delivered, or does not deliver the improvements that are being sought in terms of improving safety for Australian users, I will not hesitate to take further action – including regulatory and legislative measures,” she said.
The latest step in the crackdown against dating app violence follows a national roundtable on online dating safety convened in January, which brought together industry, governments, and the family, domestic and sexual violence sector to establish ways to address violence facilitated by the platforms.
The government said while many online dating platforms had taken steps to keep their users safe, there was too much variation across the industry, and a collaborative approach was now needed.
Asked why the code would be voluntary, not mandatory, Ms Rowland said there was a balancing act that needed to occur.
“What we need to do is balance innovation that is occurring in this area with the need to have some impact on the harms that are occurring,” she said.
“What we want to do in this sector is not stifle innovation, but balance our hands. So by having a voluntary code upfront, this is not a set-and-forget. It will be overseen by the eSafety Commissioner, who will have input into this design.
“By having this in place, and by having reporting after nine months of operation, we will be able to see whether there have been those improvements.
“But have no doubt, if this does not deliver improved safety for Australian users, we will have no hesitation in taking this further.”
She said by giving the platforms until next year to put the code in place, the industry had time to “lift standards”.
“The industry has been responsive to our calls for improvements – but we want to build on that momentum as well,” she said.
Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth said dating app violence, as a form of gender-based violence, “has to end”.
“What we know from the engagement through our round table, but also engagement through the work done by victim-survivors is that there is a lot of opportunity that these dating apps provide to make connections, but there are of course the risks that come with it that facilitate technological abuse,” she said.
“And it is very clear that a significant number of particularly women are experiencing online harassment and abuse facilitated by dating apps.
“It’s time for the industry to lift standards. But it’s also time for the industry to look at the unique position it is in.
“ … If we are going to end violence against women and children in one generation, then we need to address this on online dating apps.”
Match Group – which owns and operates a number of dating apps including Hinge and Tinder – said safety guides “everything” they do”.
“This is an important conversation that should not be limited to a single industry, but extend to address these systemic issues that occur everywhere, from public streets to workplaces and to social media platforms – ensuring a holistic approach to cracking down on abusers and bad actors,” a Match Group spokesperson said.
“Match Group is a leader in developing new and effective safety tools because our investments and approach are informed by safety experts and real world experiences – perspectives we need across industries to constructively address the pervasiveness of gender-based violence.
“We will continue to work with regulators and our partners, such as the Women’s Services Network, the Queensland Police Service, and Chanel Contos to combat gender-based violence and strengthen safety on our platforms.”