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NetChoice Files Opposition Letter to Florida Online Dating Background Check Bill

( - April 9, 2008) The NetChoice Coalition has sent an opposition letter to the Florida House of Representatives in regards to bill HB 411, titled the "Internet Predator Awareness and Online Safety Act".

The bill would require online dating services to do background checks on their members or post a series of disclaimers that they don't.

The legislation has been pushed by online dating site, which is believed to be trying to confuse the industry by having different states pass different variations of online dating background check bills.

In's early days, they signed an exclusive contract with the largest provider of online background checks. Then they started sending lobbyists to various states pushing for online dating background check legislation.

In his book, "Instructions to my Officers," CEO Herb Vest says (on pages 62 and 63):

"Use regulatory restraints to your advantage... Employ lobbyists to protect your regulatory flank. Although distasteful to some people, companies often use laws and regulations to control competition... Tie up suppliers with exclusivity contracts. This will frustrate the competition enough to allow exploitation."

NetChoice Coalition and other online dating services have made their opposition to the bill clear. In a letter dated March 31, 2008, the NetChoice Coaltion sent the following letter to the Florida House of Representatives:

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March 31, 2008

Rep. Stanley Mayfield
Chairman, Environment & Natural Resources Council
Florida House of Representatives
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1300

Subject: HB 411, Internet Predator Awareness and Online Safety

Dear Chairman Mayfield:

I write to oppose HB 411, which is currently assigned to your committee. I have made several trips to Tallahassee to testify in opposition to previous versions of this legislation, and testified against HB 411 when it was heard by the Committee on Agribusiness on March 19, 2008.

Despite some well-intentioned amendments, HB 411 still suffers from two fatal flaws:

First, HB 411 would freeze the current state of technology and limit competition for conducting background screening that can truly protect Florida consumers. HB 411 would lock into Florida law a formal definition for “Criminal background screening”. Yet, the definition in HB 411 would have the state set a standard that is rendered entirely ineffective when a convicted sex offender registers with a name that’s different from the name under which they were previously convicted. In fact, HB 411 includes suggested disclaimers that acknowledge this shortcoming in using searches based on given names:

"Anyone who is able to commit identity theft can also falsify a dating profile." and “background screenings of applicants can be fallible and there is no way to guarantee that the name provided by a person to be used in a background screening is the person's true identity.”

Competing dating sites, in contrast, are now developing and testing far more effective means of validating a user’s true identity, such as asking a battery of questions based on credit reports. Moreover, 50 state Attorneys General joined MySpace in forming a task force specifically to determine how to do online authentication that’s reliable and effective. The task force findings will certainly call for more than HB 411 requires, and these new measures will undoubtedly be more advanced and more expensive than a name-only search. Not coincidentally, the only online dating company that supports HB 411 uses a name-only search, and therefore seeks the state’s implicit endorsement of its current business methods.

Second, HB 411 would foster a false sense of security in the minds of Florida consumers, by allowing disclaimers to be disconnected from safety claims. As noted above, HB 411 recognizes the need for disclaimers to avoid creating a false sense of security for Florida singles. Yet, the legislation allows companies that use name searches to “bury” the disclaimer on an internal page—while allowing them to proclaim anywhere on their website that they have met Florida’s standard for ”Criminal background screening”.

For example, below is the present home page of, the company seeking this legislation in Florida and several other states. In at least 3 paces (noted with arrows), makes claims about its background screens.

While HB 411 recognizes the need for disclaimers, it would not require any disclaimer to accompany or be directly linked to claims made about online safety. Instead, the bill allows a company to boldly claim that it is following Florida law, while burying disclaimers on a separate page that’s disconnected from the safety claims.

For these compelling reasons, we ask that you oppose HB 411 if and when it comes before your committee. Thank you for considering our views, and please let me know if I can provide further information for your deliberations on this legislation.


Steve DelBianco
Executive Director, NetChoice

cc: members of the Environment & Natural Resources Council

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Legislatures seem lulled into the concept that online dating background checks are a good idea without looking at the bigger picture. The picture for online dating services, however, will become more clear if the bill makes it to the House and Senate voting agenda.

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