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POLITICS

Tim Carney: Online dating regulatory wars

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Timothy P. Carney

Have you used an online dating site? Do you assume the site conducts background checks on all the dudes/ladies on the site? Do you actually know what the phrase “background check” means, precisely?

A few states have already required online dating sites to notify users whether they conduct background checks. Some more states are considering such laws. A big force behind the New Jersey law was the Safer Online Dating Alliance (SODA).

SODA, it turns out, was an arm of one dating site, True.com. True.com happened to conduct background checks on all its users, and so these regulations — which are of questionable safety value — would help True.com by scaring users away from their competitors.

I wrote this up on Valentine’s Day 2008:

In Illinois, the legislation got a committee hearing, where it was shot down, in part, by State Sen. Jim Sacia, a retired FBI agent.

Sacia, an agent for 28 years, worried that the bill’s effects would provide “false confidence” to True’s users. “When I talk about background checks,” Sacia told me this week, “I’m thinking a thorough criminal check, including a fingerprint search and calling people who know the individual.” True doesn’t do that. They rely on criminal databases provided by counties and states, checking them against the names and birthdays provided by registered users.

Herb Vest, founder and CEO of True.com, denies that this legislation hurts his competitors. “When it’s being legislated like this, we’re giving up our competitive advantage,” he told me. Vest thinks that other firms, faced with the disclosure requirements, will take up True’s policies of conducting the checks. The benefit, Vest says, will accrue to the entire industry by boosting consumer confidence in online dating.

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