Industry Update - March 2022
Welcome to the first edition of the Online Dating Association’s Industry Update, where we will bring you an overview of what the ODA has been up to in the last quarter, and a briefing on recent Public Relations and Government Affairs activities.
Online Dating Association Update
Hannah, our Comms and Policy Director, will be in New York City in a few weeks presenting at the GDI conference, where she will be presenting a ‘forward look’ of the policy landscape, highlighting what the sector can expect from the ‘Digital Regulation Decade’. If you will also be in New York City for the conference and would like to meet, please do not hesitate to get in touch.
The first ODA event of 2022 will be a webinar on the 26th of April, which will focus on new developments in moderation technologies and legal and regulatory regimes in which these technologies operate. We look forward to welcoming the wider sector to this webinar - look out for booking details soon!
We hope you are all enjoying the new website and utilising the best practice resources for the sector and the safe dating resources for the public. Over the next year the ODA will be making regular updates to the website, the standards and guidance, and the safe dating education and resources for the public. If you’d like to be involved in this important work, please do consider becoming a member of the ODA. Please reach out to Ann if you are interested in joining us, we’d love to have you!
Public Relations Update
With the release of the Tinder Swindler, and the usual Valentine’s Day interest in dating, the media focus is squarely on romance fraud. We undertook an awareness campaign with the City of London Police in January, with significant media pick-up, as well as a joint-campaign with UK Finance for Valentines’ Day. You may have seen Hannah representing the ODA on the ITV lunchtime news Friday the 11th February, or some of the print media pick up. We expect romance fraud to continue to be a top story in the media; the significant increase in fraud over the pandemic shows no signs of abating and there are new elements emerging too - including relationships started on dating apps leading crypto-currency investment scams, as described in this recent New York Times article. Outside the UK, we supported a romance fraud awareness campaign in the Netherlands over Christmas, and the FTC in the US is also regularly running media engagement on romance scams. We think this illustrates a continuing interest in romance fraud across global jurisdictions and something ODA and the sector need to monitor. Up next, keep an eye out for the ODA on the upcoming BBC series For Love or Money, likely to broadcast in May.
The ODA intends to keep working with partners to educate the public on romance fraud; in our public engagement work we always highlight the importance of users remaining on the dating service which allows us the opportunity to illustrate the hard work the sector does to combat scammers and fraudsters. Continued PR and public engagement improves the public’s opinion of dating apps, and we intend to do more positive PR, highlighting the wonderful relationships formed from online dating and the role of trust and safety on our platforms. Good PR, and positive public opinion, is beneficial in our advocacy in relation to the Online Safety Bill and other new legislation in other jurisdictions.
In other PR activities, the ODA has also joined the Coalition for App Fairness, which advocates for ‘freedom of choice and fair competition across the app ecosystem.’ We will be supporting CAF’s public and media engagement, including commenting on the on-going Dutch ACM decision against Apple, which relates to alternative payment systems in dating apps. We’ll be making the case publicly for pro-competition regimes, like the EU Digital Markets Act, alongside other members of CAF.
Finally, we are regularly approached by Government and stakeholder agencies to support campaigns relevant to dating services. You will have seen the successful ‘Booster’ campaign in the UK, and we are grateful for those in the sector who engaged; we are now supporting an awareness campaign focused on Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG). This is particularly important in light of programmes such as last week’s BBC programme ‘Dating’s Dangerous Secrets’, highlighting sexual harassment, abuse and assault as a result of ‘online dating’; the article is here. These types of exposés are a challenge to the perception of the sector, and we must work together to address them. Working with Governments and other public bodies raises our profile and helps build awareness of the trust and safety work we take seriously in the industry. Please join the ODA to get involved with these campaigns and public engagement - we cannot deliver this work without the support of members.
Policy and Advocacy Update
It has been very busy for the ODA, and the members of the ODA, on the policy front. The 2020s is being touted as the ‘Digital Regulation Decade’ and it is essential the ODA and the voice of the online dating sector are heard while regulation is designed. TechUK has a solid overview of the ‘digital decade’, which is worth a read, as well as Ofcom’s predictions.
The ODA has joined TechUK, the trade association for the wider technology sector in the UK. Through TechUK, we have the opportunity to engage with multiple government departments and input into sector white papers. The next white paper published by TechUK will be on ‘Digital ID’, and we are collating feedback from ODA members (read their current position here). With TechUK we have also met with DCMS about the Online Safety Bill, addressing key concerns from the online dating sector, including the recent inclusion of a ‘fraud’ offence in the Bill. We have also begun meeting with Ofcom, who will be the regulator for the online safety regime and put forward both concerns and opportunities for our sector in the new regime. Ofcom were particularly interested in speaking to our sector about fraud, including our frameworks for tackling frauds and scams. I would urge any organisations concerned about new digital regulation and its impact on their businesses to consider joining the ODA for the latest updates on policy and regulation, and the chance to make their voice heard with Government, stakeholders and regulators.
Online Safety Legislation
If you would like to read more about the Online Safety Bill in the UK, TechUK has done an excellent synopsis of the Joint Committee report in December; we are still expecting the new Bill in mid-March. Since the original draft of the Bill was published, a further list of priority illegal harms has appeared, which will be added to the Bill. In scope companies will be required to proactively tackle these offences through risk assessments, and firms will need to make sure the features, functionalities and algorithms of their services are designed to prevent their users encountering them and minimise the length of time this content is available. Having these processes will be essential to the risk assessment performed as required by Ofcom's codes of conduct. These new offenses include online drug and weapons dealing, people smuggling, revenge porn, fraud, promoting suicide and inciting or controlling prostitution for gain as well as three new Communications Offences recommended by the Law Commission which are:
- A ‘genuinely threatening’ communications offence, where communications are sent or posted to convey a threat of serious harm
- A harm-based communications offence to capture communications sent to cause harm without a reasonable excuse
- An offence for when a person sends a communication they know to be false with the intention to cause non-trivial emotional, psychological or physical harm.
There will also be a new offence of ‘cyberflashing’, for which dating app Bumble has been advocating. Cyberflashing can be either the sending of unwanted sexual images over free public wifi (for instance on a bus) or the sending of unwanted sexual images through a messaging service. You may also have seen an addition to the Online Safety Bill requiring age-verification for pornographic sites and apps – we will be keeping an eye on this development, as it could set the precedent for other services which children are not meant to access.
In Europe on the 20th of January, The Digital Services Act (DSA), was passed by the European Parliament. Parliament introduced several changes to the Commission proposal, including imposing more stringent content moderation rules, exempting micro and small enterprises from certain obligations, and strengthening transparency and consent requirements for targeted advertising. The European Council had agreed its position on the proposal for a Digital Services Act in November 2021 and the trilogues (an equally composite tripartite meeting between those involved in the legislative process of the EU institutions) continue. A good overview of both the DSA and DMA (Digital Markets Act) can be found here, and this is an excellent analysis of how the DSA will be enforced. Once the DSA has passed, it is likely each member country will draft specific Online Regulation Bills to deal with elements of the DSA for individual countries, much like Ireland’s Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill.
In the USA, two senators introduced KOSA, the Kids Online Safety Act, which would apply to entities that are likely ‘to be used by a minor’, and would require entities to have a duty of care towards minors in their products and services as well as an opt-out recommendation on minor’s personal data. Another online safety bill, the EARN IT Act, was again before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where it was unanimously passed. It will amend Section 230 to allow lawsuits against internet companies that advertise, promote, present, distribute or solicit material depicting the sexual abuse of children. However, there is significant opposition to this amendment by privacy, human rights and freedom of speech groups in the USA.
Overall, you can see online safety is at the top of the agenda for a number of jurisdictions, and it is likely online dating services will be caught by legislation and regulation in some way. It is the ODA’s role to both advocate on behalf of the sector, and to work with Governments for sensible regulation beneficial to all.
To read more on
- Pro-Competition in Digital Markets
- Data Protection & Privacy
- Cybersecurity and Artificial Intelligence
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To reiterate, a big thank you to everyone who supports the Online Dating Association. Please follow @odassociation on Twitter and Online Dating Association on Linkedin to get all our news as it happens, and consider joining us as a Member or an Associate to make your voice heard.
We look forward to working with you all in future, whether as members or across the wider community. Please do not hesitate to get in touch with me to discuss anything further.
Dr Hannah Shimko
Comms and Policy Director