Michigan Lawmakers Mull Online Dating Legislation

Gretchen Gallen
MICHIGAN – As the number of people seeking love on the Internet continues to swell to upwards of 26 million, Michigan, among several other states, is considering drafting new legislation that would require Internet dating sites to disclose whether they have conducted criminal background checks on clients.

Senate Bill 286, sponsored by Rep. Sen. Alan Cropsey of DeWitt, would require that criminal checks be posted on the website as well as disclosing the limitations of background checks and urging members to adhere to safe dating practices.

The Senate is deeply divided over whether the bill will have any positive effects on the online dating industry and would keep users out of harms way from online predators.

Similar legislation has been considered by California, Texas, Florida and Ohio, but so far, none have been drafted into law.

The Michigan bill, which has so far garnered strong Republican support, was voted on recently by a Senate panel with a 4-3 vote. Backers say posting information about background checks could help online daters avoid potentially dangerous situations, whereas critics feel that users could easily mislead website owners by using fake names.

Michigan could vote on the bill as early as April.

Online dating sites that currently post information about background checks are True.com, which states on its homepage that married men or women looking to have affairs are not welcome and that the site conducts a background check for all users, using public records to verify identity.

There has been an influx recently of data on online dating, some reports claiming that the industry is experiencing an all-time high, and others claiming the industry has declined more than 33 percent in recent months, according to online research firm Jupitermedia.

“For years, online dating sites saw large numbers of new users flowing into the market every years,” analyst Nate Elliott said. “As a result, the industry grew by 73 percent in 2002 and 77 percent in 2003.”

Analysts estimate that about two out of every five U.S. singles online have visited a personals site, with nearly one in four having posted a profile.

Nielsen//NetRatings claims that 26 million users visited online dating sites in the month of January alone.