Dating and Background Checks in the UK

detective.jpgMy friend Shimrit saw Cluechick’s post on the dating (“Emerging Dating Paranoia“) and wanted to add a bit herself. She works for the UK’s biggest online dating provider. She has a new book coming out, and a blog at “Everyone’s Guide to Online Dating.” She writes:

With all the current craziness surrounding online dating background checks, I asked Adam if I could offer my 2P’s worth and give a view of things as they are in the UK at the moment. I need to point out that the views expressed below are my own and do not represent the company I work for in any way.

At the moment, there is no demand for background checks on UK dating sites.

There haven’t been many heavily-publicised cases of online dating foul play here and the UK market is still going strong, so there is not yet a need for companies to create a demand for such a service to make themselves stand out. I think much of the fear-mongering in the US at the moment has more to do with online dating companies needing to draw more customers than with any actual security concerns. I don’t know what personal information companies can get about people in the US, but in the UK it’s a joke.

We were recently approached by a sales agent for some background checking company and the information the guy said they could provide for us was sparse and not in any way guaranteed. They could basically do basic electoral roll checks and credit checks. It’s worth pointing out that the electoral roll here is by no means a foolproof way of proving someone’s age, place of residence or even real name.

While telling people you’re going to run a check on them is likely to put them off using your site, the information you would get is not likely to be very relevant to their needs.

You could potentially find out whether someone has a mortgage or a joint bank account with someone else, but this would be expensive to do and would not necessarily show that the person is married or attached. The sales guy pushing this stuff kept making it very clear that we must never ever use the word “guaranteed” and yet he was
talking about adding an element of trust to our sites. I fail to see how you could trust something that is not guaranteed. Unfortunately, I can see clever marketers giving people the impression they can guarantee safety without actually using these words, which is very very bad. If you did want to go the extra mile and check for a criminal record (assuming you want to open that can of worms: should people with a criminal records not be allowed to date?) you would need to put the onus of proving integrity on the potential members. They would be charged money for a police reference, which is, again, far from foolproof as it’s easy and free to change your legal name in this country. Unless there is a real demand for such a service, nobody would want to sign up for it and it would take a lot of fear-mongering to make people demand something so costly and annoying. In the UK, I reckon it would take a case of some paedophile hooking up with a single parent online and then molesting the children. Either that or a very quick succession of online dating rapes and murders within a short period of time and a whole load of PR work. Of course, even if you did criminal record checks, there is no guarantee someone with a clean record isn’t going to one day freak out and kill someone. There’s a first time for everything.

Background checks are basically just the latest round of hype, aimed at giving people the illusion they are safer dating on a particular site when actually they’re not any safer at all. As far as I’m concerned, they are bad for two reasons. The obvious one is the breach of privacy and the other one is that the illusion of safety can make people complacent to the point where they relax the basic safety issues we constantly try to drill into their heads. The best way to ensure people’s online safety is education. Anything else is marketing. Sadly, with the growth rate of the American online dating market slowing down, we’re going to be seeing plenty more unnecessary services being touted as essential.

3 thoughts on “Dating and Background Checks in the UK

  1. Online Dating is so popular, you have to believe that it works or there wouldn’t be so many who participate in it. I think being cautious is the right thing here. Better to be safe than sorry. Online dating can be a wonderful thing – just like anything else in life, you just have to be realistic and know that not everyone tells the truth, some are not good people, but for the most part – many are just like us.

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