Australian sexual assault victims blast Tinder dating app's safety practices

‘I saw you on Tinder’, Graffiti in Trastevere, Italy 2014 – Image courtesy Flickr user Itmost (CC BY 2.0)

An investigation by Australian radio program TripleJ Hack has raised disturbing allegations about the way dating apps handle sexual assault cases.

Triple J, a youth-oriented program that is part of the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), aired ‘Tinder: A Predators’ Playground’ on ABC TV’s Four Corners on October 12.

More than 400 people responded to a TripleJ callout about safety on dating apps and 175 respondents told the journalists that they had experienced a sex offense by someone they met on the app Tinder, )owned by dating services company Match Group. Around 48 of those said they had reported the offense to Tinder with only 11 receiving a response.

The video and transcript are available here.

According to the investigation, predators were able to unmatch themselves, erasing evidence and becoming untraceable for victims. This feature was apparently originally designed to protect users, certainly not predators. Women complained that not only was it hard to get a response from Tinder but also to get predators removed from the platform. There were also complaints that some police “didn’t do their jobs”. However, a senior police spokesperson from the State of New South Wales maintained that “it is always difficult to get information” from apps about sexual assault cases.

There was a number of interviews with victims, which contained disturbing, graphic details of assaults including rape. It was also revealed that one of the victims had taken her own life following the trial of a serial rapist who had multiple profiles on Tinder.

Dr. Oscar Vorobjovas-Pinta's tweet typified social media reactions:

I watched this program with horror. I’m appalled how @Tinder handles the cases of sexual abuse.

— Dr Oscar Vorobjovas-Pinta (@DrOscarVP) October 14, 2020

As did Kelsey Menzies’ concern about dating apps:

Nearly every single friend of mine has a story about a dodgy #tinder date or a ‘match’ that’s edged himself a bit too close. This. Story. Is. Important. Thankyou @triplejHack @4corners https://t.co/7G4czpshHi

— Kelsey Menzies (@KelseySMenzies) October 11, 2020

Tinder has been downloaded over one hundred million times since its beginning in 2012. Its global revenue exceeded $1.2 billion US dollars in 2019. The impact of the allegations on the number of women using the app was raised by Booboo Kittiefukk:

Ugh. I wonder if @tinder had a massive reduction of female profiles in Australia thanks to @4corners & @triplejHack. Journalists keeping women safe because @tinder won't. Shame on you @tinder. #tinder #datingapps #4corners #triplej #triplejhack

— Booboo Kittiefukk (@boobookittifukk) October 12, 2020

Verity Hawkins raised an ongoing concern about how women's voices are regarded:

Yet again, women are not believed, and are diminished and devalued. Horrific stories of sexual assault and harassment @4corners @AvaniDias #believewomen #genderequality #4corners #EndViolenceAgainstWomen

— Verity Hawkins (@Verity_Hawkins) October 12, 2020

Tinder has published a written statement defending its “processes and policies” on its blog while vowing to improve its safety measures:

We have heard from survivors and we are acting. We strive to continually improve our safety systems and are always ready to take further action when shortcomings are identified.

[…] We are grateful to all who have spoken up about violence or assault by someone who they met through our platforms. We value and respect their courage and determination to report these incidents so we can remove these offenders from our sites and better protect our users.

Apparently, it has not agreed to an interview with TripleJ. Jack Gramennz clearly wants greater accountability:

Tinder couldn’t put anyone on camera to defend the company on Four Corners but of course the morning after there’s a X,000 word blog post about how hard they try https://t.co/QMfjIYE8Cb

— jack gramenz (@JackGramenz) October 13, 2020

Journalist Hannah Ryan was outraged by Tinder's reply:

Pathetic response from a company accused of enabling sexual assault perpetrators to escape accountability and reoffend using their app https://t.co/IudJBHfy2y pic.twitter.com/T52RWrJDlq

— Hannah Ryan (@HannahD15) October 11, 2020

The Tinder controversy has roused many on other social media sites. Four Corners’ Facebook page has several posts with hundreds of comments. TripleJ’s short video on Instagram has received over 19,000 views.

Rosalie Gillett and Nicolas Suzor, of Queensland University of Technology, looked at some broader issues on The Conversation website, arguing:

Tinder isn’t alone in failing to protect women — our attitudes matter a lot as well.

All the major digital platforms have their work cut out to address the online harassment of women that has now become commonplace. Where they fail, we should all work to keep the pressure on them.

Those who are contemplating keeping or creating dating profiles, for either serious relationships or casual encounters, have two key issues to consider: How can Tinder, and other dating apps, better protect users from predators? How can it properly support their victims? Tinder has partnered with Noonlight to offer a safety backup. A phone alarm alerts emergency services such as police and first responders. However, it is currently only available in the United States.

Meanwhile, TripleJ Hack has continued its investigation, looking at whether victims could take legal action against the dating service.

In the latest development, the Australian Minister for Communications, Paul Fletcher, has met with representatives of Match Group to discuss improving user safety. Merryn Redenbach responded to this news on Four Corners Facebook:

Will Tinder now release data on all complaints of sexual assault received from Australia to the police sexual offences units in each State and Territory, or another body established to investigate this abuse? And comply quickly with all Police requests for data? Any other response from the company is just marketing spin.

Written by Kevin Rennie

This post originally appeared on Global Voices.