Interview with Kim Landers, ABC Radio AM

KIM LANDERS, HOST: The operators of some of the most popular dating apps like Tinder, Bumble and Grindr are meeting with the Federal Government on Wednesday to discuss safety measures. Last month, a New South Wales man who police allege had a history of domestic violence was charged with the murder of a woman he met online. The case has sparked calls for changes to stop people with a known violent background registering on dating apps.

The Federal Communications Minister Michelle Rowland spoke with me earlier. Minister, shouldn’t dating apps be doing criminal checks on users?

MICHELLE ROWLAND, MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Kim, we are keen to see through our National Roundtable what kinds of supports are already in place and what kinds of technologies are being use by these apps, and also what measures have or are being considered by State Governments. We are also considering, in the context of the work the eSafety Commissioner is doing, what we need to do further as uniformly as possible to keep Australians safe.

I’m going to be keeping an open mind, as are my Ministerial colleagues who are attending, but the point of this Roundtable is to hear from the dating app providers themselves, law enforcement experts and representatives of government, because we want to get the best results to keep Australians safe online. 

LANDERS: A report from the Australian Institute of Criminology found three-quarters of online daters surveyed had been subject to some sort of online sexual violence; one-third had experienced abuse in person. Are dating apps proactively stopping users who’ve been removed from predatory behaviour from popping up on sites with new accounts and aliases?

ROWLAND: We know that they have some measures in place and that there have been improvements over the years. But exactly as you say, Kim, that report from the Australian Institute of Criminology demonstrates that there are unacceptable levels of abuse and harassment. The Albanese Government is deeply concerned about it. We also recognise that we have over 3.2 million Australians using dating apps in 2021, and it’s actually now the most common way to meet a new partner. Ten years ago it would have been uncommon to reveal you’d met a new partner online; now it’s mainstream.

Taking all these factors together, we think it is opportune to examine holistically the regulatory framework, discuss with the dating apps what they are doing and what more they can be doing because again, in the end, the result we want is a safer online experience for Australians.

LANDERS: Are you confident that the apps are responding quickly enough to reports about online harassment and image-based abuse, for example, and are reported assaults getting immediately referred to police?

ROWLAND: I think we should examine all these issues in a thorough manner through this Roundtable. And, again, that is the purpose of this - so we can hear precisely what they are doing, because too many people are having bad experiences. In some cases, they have complained it is because of the lack of speed at which the dating apps are remedying these situations. But, again, we also need to look at what the regulatory framework does. So, all these things need to be taken together.

LANDERS: What’s stopping dating apps, for example, doing criminal checks on their users? I mean, you can do working with children checks. Why can’t it be done for people on these dating apps?

ROWLAND: Some of these apps have their own requirements for a sort of pre-vetting before individuals get to use them. But in some cases, of course, they are not consistent. I think it’s important here to hear particularly from the police side of things where there have been complaints and what the dating apps have represented to users who would like to have a better experience. But I think that the dating apps would be well on notice that the Albanese Government intends to not only take this very seriously but take whatever action is necessary – certainly in conjunction with the States and Territories. - I think all Governments in Australia want to do the same.

LANDERS: Well, what repercussions are these apps going to face if they don’t beef up security?

ROWLAND: The apps will be well aware that incentive regulation operates in a way that is designed to change behaviours obviously. And I wouldn’t put it past either at a Federal level or at a State level further measures being adopted and put into hard law and regulation if it is found that –

LANDERS: Such as?

ROWLAND: Well, for example, there could be fines and other sanctions for failing to comply. But, again, I don’t want to get ahead of the Roundtable. But we know that there are regulatory options that are available for all levels of government. There are legislative options available to levels of government, and we should examine what is being done now. And if the situation does not improve then certainly it is within the scope of government to make sure that we do everything we can to keep Australians safe online.

LANDERS: If I could shift to the online harassment of children, over the past year the eSafety Commission has probed 1,700 cyber bullying complaints and asked social media companies to remove offensive content more than 500 times. Are more regulations needed to regulate how platforms respond to illegal and harmful content with children?

ROWLAND: We know that too many young children are being bullied online. We want to ensure that people know where to complain and have the tools – and awareness of those tools – available to them. In late last year, we had a report come out from the previous term which demonstrated that too many people did not know that the eSafety Commissioner’s resources and work was available to them. So, increasing that awareness is important.

But also, we’re getting on to the first year of the Online Safety Act being in operation and I think it’s important that the eSafety Commissioner be allowed to bed down implementing those laws. I expect that we will see even further action by the eSafety Commissioner and by the Albanese Government to ensure that we get better results in this area.

LANDERS: Minister, thank you very much for speaking with AM.

ROWLAND: Pleasure.