The operators of dating apps have been issued with an ultimatum designed to address sexual assault on platforms.
The federal government has requested that the online dating industry develop a new voluntary code of practice to protect users, or face regulation.
The government would not hesitate to go over the top of the sector with regulations and legislation if it failed to protect users, Communications Minister Michelle Rowland said.
She defended making the code voluntary in the first instance, saying there had to be a balance between accountability and not stifling innovation from the platforms.
The sector had already begun lifting its standards after a landmark roundtable that brought together dating platforms, law enforcement, the social sector, advocates and federal and state governments, she said.
“But we want to build on that momentum as well,” she told reporters in Canberra on Monday.
Any code would not be “set and forget” as the government pushed to have it in place by mid-2024 and reviewed nine months later, the minister said.
“We will be able to see whether there have been those improvements. We want to have a graduated and staged approach to how regulatory intervention is done in this space.
“But be in no doubt, if this does not deliver improved safety for Australian users, we will have no hesitation in taking this further.”
The government would take advice from the eSafety commissioner on any possible regulations, but they could include complaints handling, dealing with law enforcement and embedding safety features.
Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth said dating app providers had a moral responsibility to protect users and intervene early by identifying patterns of bad behaviour or actions that crossed legal lines, instead of wiping their hands.
“When it comes to the information that dating apps actually have, they certainly are in a position to identify when there are patterns of behaviour emerging and potentially when laws have been broken,” she said.
“There’s an opportunity here around their connection with law enforcement but also more broadly around enforcing responsible, respectful relationships.”
Ms Rowland said there were suggestions of having a register of users so the onus wasn’t left to victim-survivors to take action.
A spokesperson from Match Group – parent company of popular online dating apps like Tinder, OkCupid and Hinge – said it shared “the Australian government’s commitment to strengthen Australians’ safety”.
“This is an important conversation that should not be limited to a single industry but extend to address these systemic issues that occur everywhere, from public streets to workplaces and to social media platforms – ensuring a holistic approach to cracking down on abusers and bad actors.”
Education campaigns had been launched with consent advocate Chanel Contos and the Queensland Police, alongside new safety features within its apps, the spokseperson said.
The Australian Institute of Criminology found three in four people using online dating experienced some form of sexual violence facilitated by the app.
This included sexual harassment, abusive or threatening language, image-based sexual abuse and stalking.
1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)
National Sexual Abuse and Redress Support Service 1800 211 028
Lifeline 13 11 14
Fullstop Australia 1800 385 578
Dominic Giannini and Kat Wong
(Australian Associated Press)