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FindLaw columnist Eric Sinrod writes regularly in this section on legal developments surrounding technology and the Internet.
According to press reports, online dating websites eHarmony, Match.com and Sparks Networks have entered into a joint statement of business principles to protect users from sexual predators and to help prevent identity theft and other scams. California Attorney General Kamala Harris followed up on this development by stating that "consumers should be able to use websites without fear of being scammed or targeted," in apparent recognition that a woman was assaulted on a date that came about through an online dating site.
The companies reportedly have agreed to use national sex-offender registries to check on subscribers, to quickly respond to reported abuses, and to give Internet safety guidance to members. The dating sites will also provide reports of suspected criminal activity to the Attorney General's office.
Apparently the statement of principles is not binding, and does not include enforcement penalties. However, members of these online dating websites likely will expect these companies to live up to their expressed safety protections.
These dating sites have a wide reach, and to the extent they can further protect the safety of their members, the better. Match.com already is in business in more than 20 countries. eHarmony operates in North America, the United Kingdom and Australia. Sparks Networks has various sites that cater to focused ethnicities and religions.
Press reports indicate that about 40 million Americans participated on online dating sites in 2011, and spent more than $1 billion for their online dating memberships. Obviously, online dating sites are popular and big business. This further underscores renewed efforts for member safety.
The woman who was assaulted was on her second date in 2010 with a man whom she had met via an online dating site. The man reportedly drove her home, followed her inside, and assaulted her. The man originally argued that the experience was consensual, but later pleaded no contest to sexual battery by restraint and received a one-year prison sentence. He apparently had a series of prior sexual battery convictions.
Perhaps some might suggest that this one publicized assault out of the millions of dates that occur via online dating sites is making a mountain out of a molehill. However, even one such assault is far too many if steps can be taken to ensure that this can be prevented. And for anyone who is assaulted, the trauma can last for a lifetime.
The joint statement of principles by the online dating sites is a positive development. Let's hope that this and other efforts can keep the online dating world a safe place for people seeking love, not violence.
Eric Sinrod is a partner in the San Francisco office of Duane Morris LLP (http://www.duanemorris.com) where he focuses on litigation matters of various types, including information technology and intellectual property disputes. His Web site is http://www.sinrodlaw.com and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To receive a weekly email link to Mr. Sinrod's columns, please send an email to him with Subscribe in the Subject line. This column is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author's law firm or its individual partners.