0

Kamala Harris touts pact for online-dating safety

Online daters, take heart – California Attorney General Kamala Harris has your backs.

Harris announced Tuesday that three of the nation’s leading online dating providers agreed to issue a joint statement of business principles to help protect people seeking their soul mates from instead falling victim to identity theft, financial scams and sexual predators.

Her agreement with Santa Monica-based eHarmony, Dallas-based Match.com and Beverly Hills-based Spark Networks – which operates websites such as JDate and ChristianMingle – states that the companies will protect their members by using online safety tools, including checking subscribers against national sex offender registries and by providing a rapid abuse-reporting system for members. They’ll also keep proactively educating their members about safe online practices, providing tips such as fraud-prevention guidance and how to safely meet people offline.

“I commend these companies for committing to these important consumer protections,” Harris said in a news release. “Consumers should be able to use websites without the fear of being scammed or targeted. It is a priority for this office to ensure consumers are protected online, and companies who are creating in the Internet space have a continued opportunity to innovate and thrive.”

She said providers will continue their efforts to screen members for financial or physical safety threats, including looking for fake profiles and checking sex offender registries to prevent registered sex offenders from using their fee-based services. Anyone identified as a registered sex offender won’t be allowed to use these services.

“In the interest of protecting and educating users, I strongly encourage all online dating companies to adopt the same principles as these industry leaders,” she said.

Harris last year created an eCrime Unit to prosecute identity theft, data intrusions and other tech-involved crimes. She’ll assign a liaison from that unit to deal with reports of suspected criminal activity provided by the three online dating providers and other providers who adopt these principles.

About 40 million Americans used an online dating service and spent more than $1 billion on online dating website memberships in 2011, Harris said; of couples married in the last three years, one in six met through an online dating service and one in five people have dated someone they met through an online dating site.

The CEOs of all three companies reiterated their commitments to member safety in Harris’ news release, and said they’re proud to work with her to set an example for the industry.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.