As you might suspect, we here at Abnormal Use don’t get out much. However, we hear that online dating is kind of a big deal. Every time we turn on the television, it seems we come across another one of these social experiments. Match.com. Eharmony.com. Plentyoffish.com. There are even sites geared towards certain groups like farmers or cat lovers. If these sites help people meet that special someone, then more power to them. But what happens when that “perfect match” turns out to be an online predator?
Many states now have or have proposed laws requiring sites to notify users whether they conduct background checks. Sounds good, right? Tim Carney of the Washington Examiner doesn’t seem to think so. According to Carney, a driving force behind New Jersey’s law was the Safer Online Dating Alliance (SODA), an arm of dating site True.com. Because True.com already conducted background checks, he alleges that the proposed regulations were a means of scaring users away from competitors.
Carney may be right in questioning the motives behind the regulations, but he has obviously overlooked the legal ramifications of warning labels. Advertising that your dating site conducts background checks is a means of increasing user confidences. Conversely, disclosing that your site does not conduct checks acts to warn users of the potential hazards associated with meeting up with a total stranger. While we are not aware of any litigation against dating sites by users who were set up with dangerous individuals, such suits should be expected. A good warning label may be just the thing dating sites need to protect themselves.
Are these “warning labels” needed? Probably not. There is no question that users should assume the risk of their online mate not working out in the real world. But if we have to warn consumers that a jar of peanuts may contain peanuts, then we may want to let them understand they may be dating a predator. Sigh.
(Hat tip: Walter Olsen, Overlawyered)