Radio interview - ABC Brisbane Breakfast

LORETTA RYAN, HOST: Over 3 million people use dating apps in Australia, and the Australian Institute of Criminology found that three in four people using them have experienced some form of sexual violence facilitated by these platforms.

CRAIG ZONCA, HOST: Is that how you meet your significant other, online? And I guess if you – if you have been dating in the past ten years, online has played a big role in that.

RYAN: Michelle Rowland is Minister for Communications. Good morning, Minister.


RYAN: The government's wanting to do something about these apps and trying to make people safer. What are you doing?

ROWLAND: Well, today I'm announcing new measures that we're taking to keep Australians safe online, and that includes users of dating apps. What we are doing is providing members of the online dating industry with an opportunity to work together to address not only the Government's concerns, but the community's concerns. And that's by devising an industry code of practice to help lift the standards that are currently there in the industry.

But I do want to make it crystal clear that if the industry fails to improve safety outcomes for Australians, we're not going to hesitate to develop future options –including legislative ones. But this is an important step forward?

RYAN: Well, how would a code of practice work?

ROWLAND: In two ways. Firstly, it would be devised by the industry in order to lift standards around supporting at-risk users, improving their safety policies, complaint handling and greater transparency about harms. And that's one of the key areas in which the researchers found why three and four people using them unfortunately experience some form of technology-facilitated abuse. And that's just unacceptable. So, that's the first element, making sure that the industry is involved.

But secondly, we're going to utilise the expertise of existing agencies like our eSafety Commissioner to make sure that this code is fit for purpose, that it actually does provide some consistency across those apps. It's been quite disparate in the way in which different apps have responded to those concerns. So, we really want to lift the industry as a whole, utilise the mechanisms that we've got, but also put the sector on notice that we won't hesitate to take further action if things don't improve.

ZONCA: Why not just make it a mandatory code of practice from the beginning, Minister?

ROWLAND: That's a good question, and I guess it comes down to the fact that this is a really innovative part of our technological environment. People are utilising these apps more than any other form to meet a partner, but we have to balance privacy and other risks with that innovation. What we're trying to do here is what's really been followed in the telco and tech sector to date, and that's to give the industry an opportunity to come together, to show government and show society and their users that they are serious and that they are engaged. If that fails, then we will have no hesitation in going forward and looking at what actions need to be taken.

ZONCA: But are you giving a time frame to that? Are you saying within the next six months? Within the next twelve months? What are you telling companies in that regard?

ROWLAND: We expect this to be in place by the middle of next year. So, it's giving them some parameters and some time. And I should also point out to your listeners, since we had our Online Dating Roundtable in January, we have noticed a substantial improvement in the engagement of these big international players. They've been out to Australia on several occasions. It appears to be the first time that they've actually had contact with regulators and have come to understand the problems that we are trying to fix.

So, already we are seeing some incentives that are there. We want to build on that. We want to give them an opportunity to improve. I've set out a very clear statement of expectations. We're going to be watching them closely, but we know these are popular with users, but we want to keep them safe at the same time.

ZONCA: Yeah, of all age groups, too. It doesn't matter what age you are. It's easy to jump on one of these online dating apps. But to better protect people, that's what you say these changes will do. Let's see if it happens.

Michelle Rowland, the Federal Communications Minister. Thanks for speaking with us this morning.

ROWLAND: Thank you so much.