With an estimated 1 in 3 relationships now starting online, the world of online dating has become part of everyday living and changed the face of how relationships begin. There are thousands of services available ranging from niche services offering dating based on faith or hobbies or interests, operating alongside well-known brands with many users, as well as services which offer more casual arrangements and no long term commitments.
Dating apps and services are designed for adults aged 18 and over and dating services have arrangements in place to prevent access by under 18s, which includes clear age restrictions when signing up and moderation when profiles are created, including cross checking of profiles and reporting mechanisms that allow them to act if they do find anyone underage on their services. Preventing under 18s from accessing dating services protects them and ensures the safety and welfare of all users.
Dating apps have the functionality to allow someone to post a profile and to communicate with another person on the service. There is little or nothing by way of an open forum with the possibility of any wide variety of content kids would find interesting. This seems reflected in the relative low numbers who try to join services and must be blocked in comparison with other reasons services have for removing profiles.
But no arrangement is fool-proof, and no-one could argue that all youngsters grow up different and that some are going to try to test boundaries on a dating app or across social media or on more extreme sites. We believe the actions the sector take on a wholly voluntary basis are proportionate and effective , but at a time when children have more access than ever to online services, it’s important parents are aware of the role they can play in keeping their children as safe as possible when online.
It’s never been easier for parents to take steps to prevent their children accessing certain apps and content. There are parental controls which can be set up on smartphones, networks and gadgets, and can be used to block upsetting or harmful content and restrict access to apps like dating services designed for adults and not kids. Parental controls can also help manage how long children spend online. Apple, Samsung and all the big tech providers offer step by step information on how you can manage parental controls. As part of a precautionary approach, the ODA hosts information for parents and has shared this blocking advice with members.
Opening up a conversation about online activity with your child isn’t always easy but it is an important part of keeping them safe now and in the future. Young adults in particular need to understand that services aimed specifically at over 18s, such as dating, have age restrictions in place for their safety. FOSI and other agencies really understand these challenges and the advice they give is valuable and valued.
At the Online Dating Association (ODA) we are delighted to work with dating services to make dating as safe and enjoyable as possible. As the trade body for the industry we recently launched our Safety First Initiative for dating services. This comes in two parts: a Framework for User Safety and Model Code of User Conduct. The Framework sets out what we think to be good practice on the part of service operators when it comes to their roles in making dating services as safe as possible. The User Code of Conduct outlines what is acceptable behavior when on a dating service, which is an approach based on respect. We think this “contract” with users is critical. Users need to understand what is and is not acceptable on a service and behave accordingly. That means showing respect, being truthful, not sending offensive messages or material, taking “no” for an answer when necessary and having regard for the privacy of others in what you put in a profile. The Model Code makes clear these services are for adults and asks users to report any situation where someone is thought to be underage.
At the same time users are entitled to believe services are playing their part in monitoring content, blocking those who should not be there, giving useful advice and guidance, and responding if an incident occurs. That is where the Framework for User Safety comes in.
We are encouraging dating services globally to test their arrangements against our Framework and Model Code, arguing that it is right and proper when dealing with the millions starting new relationships online.