Dating apps on mobile phone screen

Research supports call for improved safety of dating apps

Author  Kathy Nickels
Date 19 September 2023

Online dating apps could be forced to make changes through government legislation unless they lift their standards and improve safety for users.

Communications Minister Michelle Rowland announced that popular dating companies such as Tinder, Bumble and Hinge have until June 30 to develop a voluntary code of conduct that addresses user safety concerns.

The code could include improving engagement with law enforcement, supporting at-risk users, improving safety policies and practices, and providing greater transparency about harms, she said.
But, Rowland added, if the safety standards are not sufficiently improved, the government will use regulation and legislation to force change.

The government is responding to Australian Institute of Criminology research published last year that found three-in-four users of dating apps or websites had experienced some form of sexual violence through these platforms in the five years through 2021.

“Online dating is actually the most popular way for Australians to meet new people and to form new relationships,” Rowland said.

“The government is concerned about rates of sexual harassment, abusive and threatening language, unsolicited sexual images and violence facilitated by these platforms,” she added.

Earlier this year, the federal government convened a national rountable that brought representatives from the sector face-to-face with experts, advocates and law enforcement agencies to discuss the situation playing out online.

ARC Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision-Making researcher Professor Kath Albury from Swinburne University studies behaviours on online dating and social media platforms, and said users reported a wide variety of problematic experiences.

“The harms range from receiving unwanted contact or images — unwanted texts and images that maybe are using slurs or sexually explicit when a person hasn’t consented to receiving sexually explicit communication,” Professor Albury said.

“And they range from that kind of day-to-day, the equivalent of flashing in the offline environment or on-street harassment — someone yelling out a comment to you, that’s what it feels like with that kind of contact — to, at times, racist or discriminatory language, transphobic language, stalking in some cases, and in other cases quite threatening behaviours — so moving from the dating apps on to other social platforms to stalk, or offline stalking or indeed physical harassment.”

Professor Albury said the handling of complaints was a key area where users wanted to see improvement.
“There could be clearer communication around what happens when you report an unwanted contact or a questionable or threatening contact, and what the app does with that information,” Professor Albury said.

“There could also be a clearer sense of how fast you can expect to get feedback or a very personal response from the app if you report an issue.

“One of the things that dating app users are concerned about is the sense that complaints go into the void, or there’s a response that feels automated, or not personally responsive in a time when they’re feeling quite unsafe or distressed,” Albury said.

Read more

Watch ABC interview with Professor Kath Albury


Send this to a friend