Surveillance does not equal safety: Police, data and consent on dating apps
Author Kathy Nickels
Date 12 July 2022
Dating apps are continually under pressure from civil society, media and governments to address safety concerns resulting from the use of these platforms. In response to pressures dating apps have added a number of so-called safety features. But how safe do these features actually make their users?
In this recent article Surveillance does not equal safety: Police, data and consent on dating apps published in Crime, Media, Culture: An International Journal, authors Dr Zahra Stardust, Dr Rosalie Gillett and Prof Kath Albury draw on empirical accounts of app use – and popular media reporting – to problematise commonsense assumptions about dating apps, safety, technology, policing and surveillance.
The authors use a critical criminological perspective as a lens to think about accountability by transforming the systems under which consent is navigated, alongside a public health approach that demonstrates the value of adopting a nuanced and contextual approach to gender and sexual diversity.
The article raises concerns that some of these safety features actually increase surveillance as user’s data is shared with external ‘consent apps’ and law enforcement agencies. This shared data has the potential to make users less safe – and this is particularly the case for app users who are marginalised or stigmatised on the basis of their race, sexuality, gender, health status, employment or disability.
Instead of the impetus to ‘datafy’ consent by documenting evidence of sexual transactions, or to monitor users by sharing data with police, the authors argue that a more effective approach to safety must extend the notion of ‘consent culture’ to encompass a consent-based approach to collecting, storing, and sharing user data – including seeking consent from users about how and whether their data is sold, monetised or shared with third parties or law enforcement.
“If dating apps are committed to advancing consent culture, and not simply to quick reputational fixes, they could actively build in avenues for users to expressly consent to (and withdraw from) specific uses of their data. This includes refusing intimate data from being sold, monetised or shared with law enforcement.
Datafying consent will not protect dating app users. However, understandings of sexual consent as a dynamic, interactive and communicative practice can help shape dating apps’ policies towards safety and data privacy.” 1
1. Stardust Z, Gillett R, Albury K. Surveillance does not equal safety: Police, data and consent on dating apps. Crime, Media, Culture. July 2022. doi:10.1177/17416590221111827
Read the full article Surveillance does not equal safety: Police, data and consent on dating apps