Mar 10, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Match Group first tech company to back anti-online child abuse bill

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Online dating company Match Group will tomorrow publicly support the EARN IT Act, a bipartisan Senate bill to combat online child sexual exploitation, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: Match, the parent company of major dating platforms such as Tinder, is breaking with the internet industry's leading trade group, which worries the bill could open a wedge for law enforcement to crack into encrypted systems, threatening user privacy.

Context: EARN IT would require tech platforms to comply with government-developed best practices to prevent online child sexual exploitation. If they don't, they would lose some of the liability protections they have under Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decent Act.

Axios obtained an internal memo from Match Group CEO Shar Dubey, which explains the decision. It reads, in part:

"As the mom of a teenager, I am constantly thinking about my own daughter’s safety. And as the chief executive of a company that includes some of the world’s leading dating brands — Match, Tinder, OkCupid, and Hinge — I find myself often awake at night thinking about my daughter’s future, her digital footprint and the safety and privacy issues that come with this territory...
That is why Match Group has voluntarily chosen to make all of our platforms 18+. Beyond the age requirement, we vigilantly deploy a network of industry-leading automated and manual moderation and review tools, systems and processes designed to find and remove people from our app who should not be there. This includes both underage users and the bad actors that could prey on them...
We don’t casually lend our support to this legislation. We do it recognizing there is no cure-all to keeping the Internet safe, just as there is none for keeping the world safe. But, even still, we have to do every bit we can. These are complicated problems with many considerations. We must act together in a way that doesn’t hurt start-ups or stifle innovation and new technologies. We must balance concerns around privacy with concerns around safety -— which sometimes can be in conflict. But sensible and innovative solutions can go a long way."

(Update: Match has now posted the full memo on its website)

Yes, but: Groups including the Internet Association are worried the best practices developed pursuant to the bill, should it become law, could include limiting the use of end-to-end encryption.

What's next: Match chief legal officer Jared Sine is the only tech company executive scheduled to testify tomorrow during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on EARN IT.

  • Also testifying will be IA's deputy general counsel, a law professor from The Catholic University of America, and a vice president of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

Go deeper: Push to stem online child sex abuse sparks encryption fears

Go deeper

Push to stem online child sex abuse sparks encryption fears

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Washington is amping up pressure on Big Tech to fight online child sexual exploitation, while critics and some companies fear the real aim is to force the industry to bend to the government's will on encryption.

The big picture: Separate measures from the Trump administration and a bipartisan group of Senate leaders Thursday offer the industry a broad set of general principles for fighting child sexual exploitation, while also threatening to withhold longstanding liability protection from companies that fail to meet government-approved standards.

U.S. launches global fight on online child exploitation

U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images

The Trump administration on Thursday announced an initiative with four other countries aimed at combatting the online sexual exploitation and abuse of children.

The big picture: The move comes in the form of a set of voluntary principles crafted in consultation with industry, suggesting the administration is still looking to work constructively with Big Tech on the issue, despite heated Washington rhetoric around using the law to compel firmer action.

Report urges alternative to tampering with tech's liability shield

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A new report out Tuesday from a non-profit focused on online free expression is calling on federal lawmakers to mandate more transparency from tech companies rather than weakening the industry's liability shield.

Why it matters: Internet platforms could embrace policies like transparency requirements as a far more palatable alternative to eroding their immunity from lawsuits over user-posted content, which they say is vital to their existence.