Minister Rishworth interview on ABC Sydney Drive with Richard Glover


Topics: Voluntary code of conduct for online dating app companies

RICHARD GLOVER, HOST: Online dating. How did you find it? Do you think people are mostly there for the right reasons? Do you feel you treated with respect or are there things about the process that trouble you? The Federal Government says the apps do need to do more to make online dating spaces safer, with an investigation last year finding that as many as three quarters of online dating users subjected to online were subjected to online sexual violence over the previous five years. The Federal Social Services Minister is Amanda Rishworth and joins us now on Drive. Amanda, good afternoon.

AMANDA RISHWORTH, MINISTER FOR SOCIAL SERVICES: Good afternoon. Great to be with you.

RICHARD GLOVER: Some of these apps are working fine. They result in much human happiness, I think it's fair to say. But there's also a darker side, isn't there?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: You're absolutely right. And this is not about me or the Government giving any lectures about using online dating apps. Of course, they have led to a lot of people meeting and that's great. But with the rise of any technology, there can be new ways that people may harass or indeed abuse those. What we've seen is a significant amount of either sexual harassment or abusive and threatening language as just one example, with 28 per cent of people also reporting online stalking. So, what we really want to see is this technology available, but of course that things are built in to make it as safe as possible and not subject people to these really negative things.

RICHARD GLOVER: It is weird that you can complain about a faulty toaster in an Airbnb easier than you can complain about some person who's badly harassed four women in a row? 

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Absolutely. I think a lot of the perception has been that the companies that provide these apps are just merely providing a platform for you to meet, but actually their responsibility has to go much further. It has to be that when you make a complaint about bad behaviour, that it's taken seriously and there's some transparency about how that complaint might actually be handled. But also other things, like making sure that these dating apps and some of the information they collect, that there is appropriate coordination with law enforcement, particularly if laws are broken, then there needs to be an ability for these dating apps to better coordinate with law enforcement. So, I think far from just being a place where people can meet, there does need to be some responsibility taken by the apps. And one of those does include complaints, but it also includes many other safety features that need to be built in.

RICHARD GLOVER: I wonder if someone's actually got a confirmed, court endorsed history of sexual misbehaviour of some sort of sexual assault. Is that knowledge passed on to the dating apps and do they ban that person or is it all just a free for all?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Dating apps have done a lot of work to try and build into their systems in many places, better coordination, looking out for risk etcetera, but we believe that it could be improved. So, we think that that is really important. But the other area that we heard coming out of the experience of those using the apps is it would be really good for dating apps to really intervene before it gets really dangerous. So, if there is a pattern of behaviour, a pattern of abuse, that interventions can be put in place to perhaps indicate why this behaviour is not acceptable. There are a lot of things that can be done. There are a lot of things that I recognise that since we've had our roundtable in January, that a lot of dating apps have done more. But what we are announcing today is that we want to see a code of conduct that is adopted by all dating apps so that everyone can have a similar level of safety built into the apps across the board.

RICHARD GLOVER: Amanda Rishworth is with us as Social Services Minister. One of the things that's apparently quite tricky in this, is say, the discussion has turned nasty, has turned violent, there are threats made. It can be really easy for the person making the threat to destroy all the evidence by simply unfollowing that person. And then that whole conversation gets trashed and the dating apps seem to say, oh, we can't recover it. I understand why people wouldn't necessarily want third parties reading all their messages, but you wonder about the idea that the evidence of maybe an actual crime in terms of harassment or stalking or threats of violence can evaporate in that way? 

AMANDA RISHWORTH: This was really quite a significant issue that was brought up and I think there needs to be an obligation that data and evidence is transparent. Of course, you've got to balance that with privacy concerns, but in a situation where there is imminent threat to a life or some real sense of harm to be caused, then I don't think it's morally right to say, we're not going to intervene, we're not going to do something about this. So, that has made part of the discussion that we had earlier this year. And as we work towards the code of conduct, and it will be a voluntary code of conduct, we do want industry to work out what their responsibilities are and how they can best deal with it. But as Minister Rowland said, if it isn't strong enough, then we will look at intervening as a government.

RICHARD GLOVER: Okay, I mean, just finally you've got the big stick in your hand. Now, after today, do you think you'll have to use it? What's your gut feeling? Do they seem amenable to do something at least reasonable?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Since we have started this conversation, there has been interest across the industry to put more safety features in place and make sure that there is better complaints handling, for example. So, I do think there is some appetite from industry to do it. What this code will do is make sure that across the board we're getting best practice, potentially in complaints handling, as well as coordination with law enforcement right across all dating apps. So, we think that there will be some positive moves and it's not before time, because I think a lot of users, while they have continued to use it, do report some quite bad experiences.

RICHARD GLOVER: Yeah, well, let's hope that can change. Amanda Rishworth, thank you very much for your time.