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Garbo CEO details free background checks on Match Group dating apps

·4-min read

Online daters using one of Match Group's (MTCH) apps can now use Garbo's online background check service to screen potential dates.

"With just the limited information that you have about someone... like their first name, maybe their phone number, age, or their Zodiac sign, you put this limited information into the system," Garbo Founder and CEO Kathryn Kosmides told Yahoo Finance. "In less than two minutes we'll show someone if they have any violence or harmful arrest convictions or sex offender records."

Garbo searches typically cost $3.25 each, according to the nonprofit's website, but the web-based app is providing complimentary background checks to Match Group's free and premium subscribers.

First tested on Tinder, the offer has now expanded to Match.com and Stir, the recently-launched dating service for single parents. Match Group's wide umbrella of apps also includes Hinge and OkCupid which do not currently offer Garbo features on their platforms.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 11: In this photo illustration, A covid vaccine sticker is seen displayed on the photographer’s Tinder dating app profile on June 11, 2021 in London, England. In partnership with the UK government, Tinder, Match, Hinge, Bumble, Badoo, Plenty of Fish, OurTime and Muzmatch have all signed up to a scheme where UK online daters will be able to choose to display a badge on their profiles to show if they have been vaccinated against Covid or support the jab drive. (Photo Illustration by John Phillips/Getty Images)
In this photo illustration, A covid vaccine sticker is seen displayed on the photographer’s Tinder dating app profile on June 11, 2021 in London, England. (Photo Illustration by John Phillips/Getty Images)

Privacy in online dating

In developing the app, Kosmides and her team sought to create "new kind of online background check" that limits the exposure of search subjects while still promoting safety in online dating.

"We're trying to balance privacy and protection — the great debate of the digital age," Kosmides said.

She outlined how the personal data not shown in search results is just as important as what is shown, as typical background check platforms tend to reveal too much private information about people.

"I think that background checks have existed in some sort, especially since the rise of the internet," Kosmides said. "I just don't think that they were a good solution for dating apps. ... They often will provide really invasive access to personal identifying information like someone's home address, email address, or phone numbers, and that can be really dangerous, especially if that person is in a vulnerable situation. So we don't provide access to any of that."

Performers pose for photo at a
Performers pose for photo at a "Pray and swipe right" event organised by online dating app Tinder at the Trimuriti shrine on Valentine's Day in Bangkok, Thailand February 14, 2022. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

Instead, Garbo focuses on flagging subjects for dating violence convictions, registries on sexual offense databases, and fraud offenses.

The app also looks back only so far, depending on the report. Kosmides explained that this gives people a chance to reform themselves.

"We have developed, alongside a group of internal and external advocates and experts, our personal offense reporting policy, which determines what we show and what we don't show on the platform," Kosmides said.

Background checks and gun violence

It was Kosmides' own experience that led her to create the tech nonprofit.

"I found the company in 2018 really after my own experiences within the justice systems and as a multi-time survivor of gender-based violence," Kosmides said. "And since then, we've really taken an MVP approach to building and thinking through these really hard-to-solve problems."

Garbo's other partnerships extend to the roommate-finding app Roomi and the National Domestic Violence Hotline, where "within Garbo actually you can talk to an advocate directly without ever having to leave the platform."

Kosmides added that the app is "also providing free search credits in those partnerships as well."

While dating app users are swiping to make up for time lost in the pandemic, many are doing so with caution. For instance, a Hinge study found that a majority of younger singles in particular prefer alcohol-free dates. Others are staying vigilant against romance scams.

The prevalence of gun violence in the United States also has reason to put digital daters on high alert.

In an op-ed for Fortune, Kosmides explained the link between domestic violence and gun fatalities, writing: "In more than half of the mass shootings over the past decade, the perpetrator shot a current or former intimate partner or family member as part of his rampage."

Brian O'Connor (L) of Newtown, Connecticut, fills out paperwork to purchase a Glock 10mm pistol at Chris' Indoor Shooting Range in Guilford, Connecticut April 2, 2013.  A ban on sales of high-capacity ammunition magazines, background checks for private gun sales and a registry for existing magazines that carry 10 or more bullets is expected to pass the Connecticut houses of the state legislature this week.  REUTERS/ Michelle McLoughlin (UNITED STATES - Tags: SOCIETY)
Brian O'Connor (L) of Newtown, Connecticut, fills out paperwork to purchase a Glock 10mm pistol at Chris' Indoor Shooting Range in Guilford, Connecticut April 2, 2013. REUTERS/ Michelle McLoughlin

She also told Yahoo Finance that background checks for gun owners — which are completed through the federal government's NICS infrastructure — can have cracks that allow sexual and domestic violence charges to go unnoticed.

As a result, many domestic abuse offenders escape charges through the "boyfriend loophole."

These background checks "only look at, for example, domestic violence convictions but not arrest," Kosmides explained. "They don't really look at older orders of protection. There's a lot of carve-outs to kind of allow bad actors or people who have shown that they have bad behavior, especially as it relates to gender-based violence."

Luke is a producer for Yahoo Finance. You can follow him on Twitter @theLukeCM.

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