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Online dating background checks?
States consider legislation to require Match.com & Co. to delve deeper into customer pasts.
April 25, 2005: 1:49 PM EDT

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Looking for love in all the wrong places?

A few states could soon help save the lovelorn from heartbreak. According to Monday's Los Angeles Times, a handful of state legislatures around the country are mulling legislation that would require online dating sites such as Match.com and Yahoo Personals to conduct background checks on all members, or prominently warn users that they do not.

Bills pending in Michigan, Florida, and Texas would generally order online dating services to uncover criminal felony convictions and post that information or bar the convicts from their sites, according to the newspaper. A similar bill introduced in California was pulled this year and an Ohio legislator plans to introduce one soon.

None of the legislative proposals has passed yet. But the Times noted that a law in one state could extend nationwide because of the challenges applying local rules to the Web.

The Times also pointed out that the call for background checks comes at a time when state and federal legislators are demanding that less personal information be available online. The paper cited recent security breaches at ChoicePoint Inc. and Reed Elsevier's LexisNexis.

The idea of mandatory background checks has touched off an impassioned debate.

Privacy advocates and most online dating services, including Match.com owner IAC/Interactive Corp. and Yahoo Personals owner Yahoo!, Inc., oppose the legislative effort, the Times said. Match.com and Yahoo Personals are the No. 1 and No. 2 online dating sites, respectively.

But rival service True.com not only supports the idea, but is actively lobbying for the bills' passage.

True.com, the fifth-largest online matchmaker, already conducts background checks on its members. Founder and CEO Herb Vest defended his campaign by noting that incidents of violence and fraud have occurred on dating sites.

"The primary motivation is to protect people from criminal predation online," Vest told the newspaper. "I can't imagine anyone with a hatful of brains being against that."

Internet users themselves are reportedly split on the issue. One consumer said she didn't see the harm while another objected to the government's intrusion on matters of the heart.

One critic said background checks are hardly full-proof and laws requiring them could give the lovesick a false sense of security.

Forrester Research Inc. analyst Charlene Li, in an interview with the Times, said criminal checks wouldn't solve the most prevalent form of deception that occurs with online courtships.

"The fraud comes when someone says, 'I'm a 6-foot-2 athlete and weigh 180 pounds,'" said Li.

"Then they show up at the door and the reality is that they are 5-foot-8, 240 pounds and have not run a mile in years. A background check is not going to help you with that."

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