Online dating platforms warned they will be hit with mandatory codes if they don’t clean up their apps

Online dating platforms have been warned to do more to make dating apps safer or else they may be forced to do so, after a national roundtable meeting on the issue.

The federal communications and social services ministers hosted the roundtable as part of a broader push to eliminate violence against women and children within a “generation”.

They said online platforms had made renewed commitments to improve safety, including sharing more information with each other about bad actors, and improving complaints-handling processes.

But Communications Minister Michelle Rowland warned the online platforms were also “on notice” to improve, with new powers recently given to e-safety commissioner Julie Inman Grant to impose a mandatory code of conduct on the sector if it failed to make apps safer.

“These dating app services are not going to go away … over three million Australians are using them,” Ms Rowland said.

“So, we need to bring the industry with us as much as they can, but there is a backstop.”

Ms Inman Grant said she would be watching closely to see whether the apps acted on their commitments.

“We can hold their feet to the fire; I am currently considering mandatory industry codes … if their actions don’t meet community standards,” Ms Inman Grant said.

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Julie Inman Grant was recently empowered with the ability to impose a mandatory code of conduct on online dating platforms if she deemed it necessary.(ABC News: Adam Kennedy)

Mandatory ID verification floated, but groups warn it could be abused

One of the key proposals discussed by the online dating roundtable was whether dating apps should require users to verify their identity.

The industry is reluctant to host verifying documents such as passports or driver licences, a concern Ms Rowland said was understandable in light of recent cyber breaches that exposed Australians’ data.

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Michelle Rowland says dating apps acknowledged they must do better on online safety.(AAP: Mick Tsikas)

The National Women’s Safety Alliance has also warned identity verification could have the opposite effect of potentially jeopardising safety for people fleeing abusive relationships, or that it could be “gamed” by perpetrators as a means to disarm people.

They also noted that police background checks for app users, which were called for after the murder of Danielle Finlay-Jones last month, would fail to spot the “vast majority” of perpetrators who do not have a criminal history.

Ms Rowland said while the government would consult on those options, online dating platforms had advised the roundtable they were in the process of developing “digital fingerprint” technology that could instead help to verify a user’s identity, as well as prevent serial abusers from creating new accounts under false identities.

Ms Inman Grant said the online platforms also needed to do better at sharing information between them.

“We know that really determined perpetrators won’t just use one dating service or platform to target victims, they will use multiple, and as a result the dating apps need to do a much better job at picking up signals to prevent recidivism of bad actors,” she said.

Dating app Bumble told the ABC it had implemented photo verification tools and in-app audio and video calling, which limited the need for users to share their personal details, as well as strict policies around harassment.

Match, Tinder’s parent company, did not respond to a request for comment.

‘First step’ in improving app safety

The roundtable also agreed more must be done to educate users, rather than placing the onus solely on victim-survivors to report harassment and abuse.

A recent Australian Institute of Criminology report found three quarters of online daters had been subject to some kind of online sexual violence in the past five years, and a third had experienced abuse in person.

Sexual consent activist Chanel Contos said addressing violence on dating apps was as much about dealing with intentional perpetrators as well as people who were unintentionally harassing or harming others.

Ms Contos said while reporting mechanisms were useful for responding to intentional perpetrators, more education was needed for unintentional perpetrators, and that dating apps had a responsibility to educate those people.

Ms Inman Grant said dating apps should implement “proactive nudges” that indicate to users they may be doing something harmful, or to deliver red flags to users who might be in danger.

“All of these things are possible now, but we need to see all of these companies doing it,” Ms Inman Grant said.

Ms Rowland said that dating apps also had a duty to improve their complaints processes, and that she had asked her department and the e-safety commissioner to examine current gaps in safety measures among the online dating services.

Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth said the roundtable was an important “first step” in improving the sector.

“There is an appetite to do more in the room,” she said.