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Online Dating Florida Legislation Letter in Opposition of Online Background Checks

( - April 27, 2005) The below letter is signed by 30 firms in opposition to Florida legislative efforts to try and force online dating services to do online background checks. The opposition includes some big names like Google, Yahoo!, and AOL. It is feared that the legislative effort could have far reaching effects beyond online dating services.

April 25, 2005

The Honorable Stephen Wise
Chairman, Senate Criminal Justice Committee
413 Senate Building
404 S. Monroe Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1300

Re: S.B. 1768

Dear Mr. Chairman:

The undersigned organizations, which represent the nation's most popular and innovative Internet and technology companies, are writing to follow up on our March 29, 2005 letter to you to express our ongoing concerns with Senate Bill 1768, notwithstanding the amendments made by the Criminal Justice Committee. The following highlights some of the problems that continue to exist with the bill.

As originally introduced, the legislation's vague terms and overly-broad definitions would impose new liabilities and responsibilities upon not only Internet dating sites, but on an almost limitless array of portal sites, access providers, email providers, search engines, job sites and other Internet products and services. Most of these providers would have no way of complying with this legislation.

The amendments appear to be designed to address this concern by narrowing the definition of "online dating service provider." Principally, the most significant change was to narrow the scope to an entity that charges a fee for providing access to dating, compatibility evaluations between persons, or matrimonial matching services through the Internet.

Unfortunately, this definition continues to cover a broad array of Internet companies (including email providers, search engines, chat rooms, community bulletin boards, and jobs sites). Many of these entities charge a fee for some aspect of their service that would trigger the definition in the legislation. And the exclusions do not adequately provide exceptions for Internet access providers, hosting companies, and other Internet companies providing purely conduit functions for their users.

Additionally, the bill would require an Internet service to provide an "opt-in" disclosure to any user who provides a Florida billing address or zip code in the registration process. Unfortunately, the disclosure would have to be provided every time a Florida member initiates or receives a communication with another member through the provider's service. In effect, this provision would require a "clear and conspicuous" disclosure on every web page of the service to every user of the system, because there would be no practical way of limiting these disclosures only to Florida residents. In fact, if this bill is enacted, some providers may feel it necessary to exclude Florida residents from registering to use their services.

Even if these problems could be remedied, we continue to believe that the marketplace is best positioned to address the issues identified by the sponsors of the legislation. Already, at least one Internet dating site advertises that all of its members are screened through a criminal database. Other dating sites promote different tools that are advertised as protecting the privacy and identity of users until certain precautions are met. Consumers are in the best position to determine which services provide them with the most security and comfort.

As we have mentioned before, the legislation has the potential to create a false sense of security for users of such services because current methods of background checks are not comprehensive and identifying data can be easily falsified. Even the disclosures that attempt to address this concern simply exacerbate the problem.

For example, the bill requires an online dating service provider that provides a criminal background check to disclose, among other things, that "criminal background checks are not a perfect safety solution, and that criminals may circumvent even the most sophisticated search technology." This disclosure implies that the background checks utilize sophisticated technologies. Unfortunately, the bill does not provide any requirements on what kind of information must be submitted to a service for purposes of a background check. In most instances, the background check will be based on the name and date of birth a user provides to the service. There is no way for the service to ensure that the user has provided his or her true name. This is far from a sophisticated search technology. Yet, the disclosure under the bill implies otherwise.

Finally, there is no reason why the bill continues to discriminate against Internet business models by applying only to dating services that operate through the Internet. There are many more offline dating services than their online counterparts, and arguably, online dating services are safer than their off-line counterparts because members can interact with each other on their computers in their own homes without having to physically interact with other members until they feel it is safe to do so.

While we continue to support your goal of protecting consumers in the online environment, we must inform you of our strong, continuing concerns with the approach taken in S.B. 1768, as amended, and ask that you not move forward with this legislation.

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions.


America Online
Association for Competitive Technology
Electronic Retailing Association
Information Technology Association of America
Internet Alliance
Internet Commerce Coalition
Singles Industry Trade Association
Spark Networks
The Right One
U.S. Internet Service Provider Association

Related Links
» Online Dating Background Checks Controversy
» Online Dating Background Check Controversy Continues

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