Background Checks on Dating Apps Could Leave Nonviolent People Without Love

Many dating apps prohibit users with a criminal record, but don't enforce that policy until there's a complaint. Now a background check process could result in banning many people with a nonviolent record.

Imagine you're years out of prison for a minor offense. You're putting your past behind you, and in a good spot to look for someone special online.

Then: the dating apps ban you for those charges.

A recent piece from The Marshall Project explains some dating apps' plans to allow criminal background checks on users. The changes follow critical reports on dating apps' handling of sexual assault cases - and difficulty in stopping registered sex offenders from using the service.

Multiple dating apps already prohibit signing up if you have a criminal conviction, though that rule might not get enforced until a company receives a complaint.

The apps' reliance on criminal justice records to vet users will unfairly affect people of color and may not keep users safer, says the article's author Keri Blakinger.

Many harmless romantics could be kicked off the apps due to sometimes decades-old convictions, or charges that were dropped.

Blakinger joined LX News to discuss the article, which includes a man banned from dating apps, likely due to a drug conviction that had been forgiven by former President Barack Obama. The man was banned from Tinder, and suspects his past felonies are the reason despite Obama granting him clemency following 18 years in prison.

"Presumably the idea is to make users safer, but none of the apps were actually willing to go into detail about why they believe that banning anyone with any sort of conviction would make users safer," Blakinger says. "Clearly, there's a difference between someone who was convicted of rape two years ago versus someone who was convicted of a small drug offense 20 years ago."

She also pointed out the disproportionate racial impact that pulling criminal justice records could have on dating app users.

"8% of the general population has a felony whereas 33% of Black men do," Blakinger said. "...You might have someone who's currently using drugs in an affluent white community and they're not going to get flagged by this. Whereas someone who did drugs 15 years ago in a community of color might end up being banned."

Blakinger encourages users to treat their dating app experience like they would meeting someone at a bar: do a little vetting of your own.

"I don't think we should necessarily be expecting apps to be doing all of the vetting of who you're going to meet and potentially date."