Tech nonprofit Garbo announced today it’s ending its formal partnership with Match Group, the dating app giant behind Tinder, Plenty of Fish, Match and other apps. The two companies first teamed up in 2021, when Match made a seven-figure investment in the background check provider, following a series of reports about harm that came to dating app users through Match-owned apps.
In particular, a damning investigative report by ProPublica and Columbia Journalism Investigations published in December 2019 prompted the company to begin to better focus on user safety, which also included a 2020 investment in Noonlight to help it power new safety features inside Tinder and other dating apps.
In March 2022, Tinder rolled out access to background checks powered by Garbo through the app’s in-app safety center. The experience directed users to the Garbo website where they were able to fill in basic information about their match. The company said users typically only needed their match’s first name and a phone number to get started.
Garbo’s unique quality, compared with other background check companies, is that it only focused on public records that contained reports of violence and abuse, including arrests, convictions, restraining orders, harassment and other violent crimes. It didn’t return any non-violent charges, like drug possession and general traffic tickets, excluding DUIs and vehicle manslaughter.
After Tinder, Garbo rolled out to other Match dating apps in July, including Match and the single-parent dating app Stir.
Despite its usefulness, there was some criticism that Match was passing the buck by offloading critical safety checks to a third-party partner which wasn’t deeply integrated into its apps, thus requiring daters to do more work. Others were skeptical about whether background checks were even helpful in terms of predicting the potential for abuse, as many abuse and domestic violence cases aren’t reported.
Today, Garbo says it’s winding down its consumer background check service and also ending its relationship with Match. However, it will continue to honor credits users purchased (for a limited period of time). This includes users who claimed Garbo credits through partnerships with online platforms, including Roomi, HUD and Match Group apps (Tinder, Plenty of Fish, Stir and Match.com). These new and existing credits will be honored through August 31, 2023, Garbo says.
For users who purchased credits directly from Garbo, credits are redeemable through August 31, 2023, or can be refunded through October 31, 2023.
Garbo says the decision to wind down background checks will allow it to focus on “new technology and tools that directly empower individuals to protect themselves in the digital age.” Specifically, the company says it will instead work on a new guidebook to help people protect themselves online across every platform.
There are hints of sour grapes in Garbo’s announcement, as it suggests that the Garbo app was meant to be an easier and more effective and affordable way to uncover histories of harm and violence, but “a lack of commitment from online platforms and the growing problems with public records has compromised the ability of users to harness the full power and potential of Garbo’s technology.”
Garbo’s decision to pivot its business follows leadership changes at Match which saw Match Group CEO Shar Dubey stepping down in May 2022, with Bernard Kim taking over just as Garbo was meant to start rolling out to the company’s dating apps, which may have complicated matters.
A Wall Street Journal report also indicates there were internal disagreements within Match Group about how Garbo tools should work, in addition to difficulties in getting online platforms to pay for its services. It also pegs the Match partnership investment at $1.5 million to get the background check service off the ground.
At Tinder, the report says, execs wanted to add badges to profiles that were background-checked. Garbo disagreed, saying that underreporting of sexual violence means a simple badge doesn’t provide a full picture. Garbo also didn’t feel like Tinder fully promoted the tool to users.
“Garbo is doubling down on our commitment to directly serving individuals over companies, along with more comprehensive engagement with public officials,” said Kathryn Kosmides, founder and CEO of Garbo, in a statement. “Over the next few months, Garbo is exploring a variety of innovations and opportunities to continue empowering people to protect themselves from bad actors. We will not stop advocating for survivors and working to protect those most vulnerable from violent and harmful behavior.”