In our previous analysis piece on the topic of online dating we explored the importance of industry regulation, as market actors continue to innovate and find new ways of marketing and delivering their services to users. New technology, in the form of smartphones, tablets, or wearable tech devices, has provided online dating companies with new tools to deliver their services and reach out to new customers.
As a result of the shift from desktop to mobile dating, we at Inline – together with the Online Dating Association (ODA) – decided to explore the benefits, as well as new internal and external challenges that have arisen, in further detail. The outcome of this is a new report which can be accessed here. Analysing these trends is important considering that, according to a recent Mintel report, 27% of new relationships in the UK alone now start via a meeting facilitated by a dating website or mobile dating app.
Our research has shown that some of the industry challenges are common to both traditional desktop and mobile dating services: the need for clarity on the services that are offered and their cost; the delivery of an efficient and accessible service; the protection of personal data; and robust measures to prevent fraud and scams. These are already addressed by the ODA Code of Practice.
However, mobile dating has also raised concerns over issues such as fraud and scams and the potential threat to users’ physical safety, as mobile devices usually enable users to share their geographical location with other people. In addition to this, our report has shown that there are now multiple stakeholders involved in how services are delivered to consumers. App stores, Mobile Network Operators, and Internet Service Providers, are now able to grant or deny access to users based on their own internal criteria. That said, mobile dating has also brought new benefits to consumers, such as the ease of accessing services and engaging with other users at any time and place; the ability to share audio-visual content safely and securely; and the option, in certain cases, to validate users’ identities and profiles.
In addition to this, the shift to mobile has also raised new internal questions within the online dating industry, and in particular to the ODA: how broad should the association’s membership be? Should social networking sites, with a dating element, be invited to become members? What about free mobile dating apps?
The ODA understands that its value in a rapidly changing environment will be based on its ability to engage with the wide array of different business models and businesses that now operate in the sector. In light of this, the ODA has stated that it will:
1. Review and apply broadly-applicable criteria for deciding whether to include new business models within its membership.
2. Remain engaged with initiatives around age verification and access to services as part of its public protection activities.
3. Explore how mobile applications and device technologies can give users greater confidence over the identity of the people they are engaging with online, whilst protecting their privacy.
4. Review the ways in which its members can deliver advice and guidance to new users given the different user demographics and the complexity of providing useful guidance in a small-screen environment.
5. Review the Association’s Code and assess whether it is necessary to amend it to address new issues thrown up by mobile dating and social networking apps, new service offerings and new ways in which services can be accessed.
It is encouraging to see that the ODA has already taken numerous steps since its creation to address some of the issues mentioned in the report, and that is has started meaningful conversations with industry actors. It now remains to be seen whether the ODA will accept new business models within its membership and whether it will amend its Code of Practice to reflect new industry trends. For now, it needs to collectively reflect on all of these issues. It is vital for the online dating industry to continue being proactive, as it may largely determine whether it will be subject to any regulatory intervention in the future.
Written by Elena Magrina, Policy Analyst at Inline.