The background-checking tool used by Match Group to offer a safety feature for Tinder users is shutting down. The non-profit and female-founded Garbo, which the dating app conglomerate has partnered with since 2019, will shut down its consumer tool at the end of August. “Most tech companies just see trust and safety as good PR,” Kathryn Kosmides, Garbo’s founder and CEO, told The Wall Street Journal, which published a report on the severed partnership. “I’d rather Garbo shift focus to our other efforts than allow the vision of Garbo to be compromised and relegated to a piece of big corporations’ marketing goals.”
A Match Group spokesperson supplied a statement to Engadget. “Match Group has made significant investments to enhance safety across our platforms over the last few years and we will continue to do so. From features like ‘Are you Sure?’ and ‘Does this bother you?’ to background checks, we have created tools and made investments that no other dating apps offer. We are committed to continuously investing and building industry-leading features that give users more information and control over who they choose to connect with on our platforms.”
The company suggests it’s in the process of finding a replacement partner to check for histories of violence. “While we are disappointed that we were unable to come to an agreement, we are in advanced conversations with alternate providers and will announce a new partnership soon,” the spokesperson wrote.
Kosmides told the WSJ that Garbo’s decision to suspend the tool spawned from disagreements with Match Group and difficulties getting platforms to pay for its services. She described internal disputes within Match Group brands about how to make the tool work.
Tinder leaders reportedly pushed for a system that would encourage users to run background checks on themselves to receive a badge on their profile, described as “a way to engage those who are less likely to run [background checks] themselves (predominantly men) and highlight the majority of people that are good,” an internal document viewed by the WSJ read. Garbo rejected the idea, and Kosmides told the paper, “You can’t white-list someone or give them a ‘good guy, bad guy’ identity verification.”
Public and regulatory interest in dating app safety rose in 2019 when ProPublica published a widely circulated story about sex offenders using dating apps. A Match Group spokesperson was quoted in the story as telling Columbia Journalism Investigations, “There are definitely registered sex offenders on our free products.” The uproar led to increased scrutiny from Capitol Hill. U.S. Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Ann Kuster (D-NH) sent a letter in 2020 to Match Group inquiring about protecting users from registered sex offenders. The pair sent a follow-up letter this July, noting that the dating company no longer discloses the size of its trust and safety team.
The intensified public and political interest heightened pressure on Match Group to do something, and its leadership reportedly saw Garbo — a new and untested product still under development at the time — as a novel solution. The dating conglomerate announced its $1.5 million partnership with the group in 2021 and launched a consumer tool the following year — with the company paying to offer two free background searches for Tinder users. Some criticized the move for providing a false sense of security, although Match Group cautioned not to view it as an all-in-one fix.
This summer, with Match Group and Garbo failing to agree on funding terms, the latter’s board met and voted to terminate the tool. Garbo, which also partnered with smaller firms, says it will shift back to being volunteer-run beginning on September 1st. The organization says it will “refocus our efforts on further ways to directly empower individuals with new and innovative tools to protect themselves from gender-based violence and other interpersonal harms in the digital age.”
Undeterred from its core mission, it adds, “We also plan to continue fiercely advocating for reforms in the criminal justice and public record systems to protect victims and hold bad actors accountable.”