Tech nonprofit Garbo announced today that it will end its formal partnership with Match Group, the dating app giant behind Tinder, Plenty of Fish, Match and other apps. The two companies first teamed up in 2021, when Match made a seven-figure investment in the background check provider, following a series of reports about harm coming to dating app users through app owned by Match.
In particular, a damning investigative report by ProPublica and Columbia Journalism Investigations published in December 2019 prompted the company to start focusing better on user safety, which also includes a 2020 investment of Noonlight to help it implement new safety features within Tinder and other dating apps. .
In March 2022, Tinder rolled out access to Garbo-powered background checks through the app’s in-app safety center. The experience led users to the Garbo website where they were able to fill out basic information about their game. The company says users usually only need their game’s first name and phone number to get started.
Garbo’s unique quality, compared to other background check companies, is that it only focuses on public records that contain reports of violence and abuse, including arrests, convictions, warrants to restrain, harassment and other violent crimes. It did not return any non-violent charges, such as drug possession and general traffic tickets, excluding DUIs and vehicular manslaughter.
After Tinder, Garbo launched other Match dating apps in July, including Match and the single-parent dating app Stir.
Despite its usefulness, there has been some criticism that Match is passing the buck by offloading critical safety checks to a third-party partner that isn’t deeply integrated into its apps, thus requiring on dates that do more work. Some question whether background checks are helpful in terms of predicting the potential for abuse, as many cases of abuse and domestic violence go unreported.
Today, Garbo said it is discontinuing its consumer background check service and also ending its relationship with Match. However, it will continue to honor credits purchased by users (for a limited period of time). This includes users who earn Garbo credits through partnerships with online platforms, including Roomi, HUD and Match Group apps (Tinder, Plenty of Fish, Stir and Match.com). These new and existing credits will be honored until August 31, 2023, Garbo said.
For users who purchased credits directly from Garbo, the credits are redeemable until August 31, 2023, or can be returned until October 31, 2023.
Garbo said the decision to end background checks will allow it to focus on “new technology and tools that directly empower individuals to protect themselves in the digital age.” Specifically, the company says it will be working on a new guidebook to help people protect themselves online on every platform.
There are signs of sour grapes in Garbo’s announcement, as it suggests that the Garbo app is intended to be an easier and more effective and affordable way to disclose histories of harm and violence, but “lack of commitment from on online platforms and the growing problems with public records compromise the ability of users to use the full power and potential of Garbo’s technology.
Garbo’s decision to pivot its business follows changes in leadership at Match that saw Match Group CEO Shar Dubey step down in May 2022, with Bernard Kim taking over as Garbo intended to start launching dating apps in the company, which may have complicated things.
The Wall Street Journal report also indicates that there are internal disagreements within Match Group about how Garbo’s tools work, in addition to difficulties getting online platforms to pay for its services. It is also targeting a Match partnership investment of $1.5 million to get the background check service off the ground.
At Tinder, the report says, executives want to add badges to background-checked profiles. Garbo disagrees, saying the underreporting of sexual violence means a simple badge doesn’t paint a full picture. Garbo also doesn’t feel Tinder fully promotes the tool to users.
“Garbo is doubling down on our commitment to directly serving individuals at companies, along with more comprehensive engagement with public officials,” said Kathryn Kosmides, founder and CEO of Garbo, in a statement. “Over the next few months, Garbo will explore various innovations and opportunities to continue to empower people to protect themselves from bad actors. We will not stop advocating for survivors and work to protect those most vulnerable from violent and harmful behavior.”