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Student’s Corner

This is a special section of our website dedicated to showcasing the analytical skills and insightful perspectives of law students with a keen interest in privacy law. Here, you’ll find a diverse collection of articles, essays, case analyses, and commentary written by students from various law schools. Our goal is to provide a platform for aspiring legal professionals to share their thoughts on privacy law, enhance their writing skills, and engage with a broader audience.

Why Contribute?

  • Share Your Insights: Whether you’re passionate about data protection, cyber security, or privacy regulations, the Student’s Corner is your space to express your views.
  • Build Your Legal Portfolio: Published work on our site can enhance your legal writing portfolio, providing valuable exposure and experience in the field of privacy law.
  • Engage with the Legal Community: Join a community of like-minded peers and receive feedback from readers and fellow legal enthusiasts.

The call for volunteers is currently open to student submissions.

For more information about and to volunteer email the Privacy Law Section Publications at privacypublications.cla@gmail.com

STUDENT ARTICLES

Identity & Criminal Check Verification: Potential Solution to Bridging the Safety Gap in Dating Apps

By, Kiara J. Patiño Navarro, CIPP/US
Santa Clara University School of Law, 2024 J.D. & Privacy Certificate Candidate

A lot has changed since Grindr launched in 2009 as one of the few geolocation dating apps. Dating apps now have a plethora of filters to ensure users can find matches that align with their preferences and feel secure in their interactions. These filters include, but are not limited to: age, race, height, gender orientation, religion, hobbies, dating goals, relationship preferences, and a verified selfie check.

What filter is currently missing? A verified identity and criminal records check.

In this piece, I will discuss the importance of identity and criminal verification checks, the need for them in the current digital landscape, how they can be implemented, and how their implementation could impact privacy compliance.

Safety Concerns

There are justifiable safety concerns in the use of dating apps, especially for women.

A ProPublica 2019 report found more than a third of women participants reported being sexually assaulted by someone they met through an online dating platform. And usage is high. Pew Research Center reported in 2023 that 53% of participants under 30 had used a dating site or app compared to 37% of participants aged 30 to 49. With the pervasiveness of dating app usage, it is unsurprising that 60% of Americans support a background check on dating apps. Unfortunately, 57% of women participants reported that online dating is “not at all/not too safe.”

Dating apps such as Hinge and Tinder are aware of these risks. Hinge and Tinder’s terms of use ask users to ensure they are eligible before making an account, and seemingly in users making their account, they are confirming that they have not been convicted of, or pleaded no contest to a felony, or any crime involving violence, including sex crimes; and that they are not required to register as a sex offender.

Online Dating Social Contracts

Before the explosion of online dating and the use of dating apps, social contracts in the dating world provided some comfort via informal verification. The term “social contract” is an implicit agreement among the members of a society to cooperate for social benefits.

Social contracts in the dating world vary by community. For instance, many parts of the world were shaped by social contracts in close-knit communities.

Cass R. Sunstein describes in his 1996 article, “On The Expressive Function of Law,” that in close-knit communities when a defector violates norms they will probably feel shame and this is an important motivational force for compliance, especially in considering the high social “tax” communities can enforce through informal punishment like ostracization.

There are some places in the world where dating apps are not useful or encouraged. For example, my family’s small town of San José de Gracia in the highlands of Jalisco, Mexico has a population of less than 10,000. This close-knit community is a place where social capital and reputation carry over multiple generations. A phrase used in town is, “pueblo chico, infierno grande” (small town, huge hell) which reflects their attitudes in feeling the social pressures to act exemplary or live in hellish exile.

Whereas in larger metropolitan areas, folks typically don’t have a tía (aunt) or a busybody neighbor who can give some assurance in dating by providing informal verification.

In the digital world, the closest form of community-based social nets are regional, women-led dating advice groups on social media platforms that warn others of their experiences using dating apps, particularly regarding sexual assault and catfishing.

Not a New Concept

Identification verification is not a new concept in dating apps.

The League is a dating app aimed at professionally career-driven folks. An identity check is required for all users via users merging their LinkedIn profile. This check relies upon people being truthful about their public LinkedIn. The waitlist is around 50,000 people in the Bay Area and each profile on the app is personally reviewed before going live.

The League’s model is a good first step and it would be beneficial for other dating apps to invest resources into trustworthy criminal and identity verification checks rather than relying on user-provided public representations. 

Privacy Considerations

If dating apps conducted criminal and identity checks, privacy considerations could include:

  • Dating apps map users’ identities by encouraging building a detailed profile, including their hobbies, sexual orientation, and religious and political beliefs. Some of this information is sensitive personal information under some privacy laws and if a dating site conducted criminal and identity checks, they would likely be collecting even more sensitive personal information, which may go against data minimization principles. Mozilla Fox recently reported that most dating apps (80%) share or sell users’ personal information and won’t guarantee them the right to delete their data.
  • Dating apps would need to exercise special care to safeguard users’ sensitive personal information while balancing the need for the physical safety of their other users. For example, the California Consumer Privacy Act (“CCPA”), as amended by the California Privacy Rights Act (“CPRA”), provides California users the right to limit the use of their sensitive personal information for limited purposes. Per Section 1798.135 of the CCPA regulations, companies must provide a notice of the right to limit or provide an alternative opt-out link that is accessible to users. Thus, as users provide the information needed for background checks, companies must ensure that users are given notice of the right to limit or be provided with an opt-out link.
  • Companies should consider disposing data soon after verifying users’ identities to safeguard users’ information. As users have the right to correct under the CCPA, the data retention period could factor in the time needed to correct a user’s information if they were denied the badge unjustifiably.

In addition to these privacy concerns, wide-scale implementation of checks may be cost-prohibitive. However, users could be charged a one-time fee for a verified criminal and identity check badge and be afforded ease of mind in dating.

Conclusion

With a growing number of younger people using dating apps, these apps have a societal responsibility in shaping a safer dating experience. While identity and criminal verification checks may not entirely prevent sexual assault, they would likely result in a reduction and provide a more trustworthy and transparent space for users.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this student article are solely those of the author and do not represent the opinions of the California Lawyer’s Association Privacy Law Section. This article is for educational purposes only and should not be considered as legal advice. Readers should consult with qualified legal professionals for specific guidance.

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