UK dating site may be template for online fraud detection

Existing practises by one UK dating advice site may hold the key to helping Google cut down on the amount of ‘bad actor’ ads it has slipping through its nets every month, specifically in this report, appertaining to human trafficking.

AdWords, probably the most successful online advertising method on the Internet, has been dogged with advertisements for all manner of dodgy products in the past, pharmaceutical aids for improved sexual performance being one of the first categories that spring to mind. A persistent pest they are at least, a scam they are at worst and for the in between, there is little way to prove that the product works or doesn’t and absolutely no way of getting your money back if they categorically don’t.

But that type of nuisance is small fry compared to a much bigger issue being championed once again by NAHVTA’s Philip J. Cenedella. The National Association of Human Trafficking Victim Advocates is calling on Google, even writing to Larry Page directly, to stop all online dating ads that may be a front for human trafficking.

Google, according to one recent report, spends millions every year policing just such practises but, because of the volume, literally billions of ads every year that appear alongside blogs, search engine results and even next to your message in a Gmail inbox (how intrusive is that?) as Adsense advertisements to generate income for the blog-master, it is increasingly difficult to catch ’em all.

However, Cenedella will not be happy until there is “0.0%” of human trafficking in dating site ads displayed using the AdWords/AdSense medium, however unrealistic that may be. But he’s not afraid of a scrap this one; he’s took on some big names in the virtual and real world in his efforts to stop human trafficking in all its guises. In 2009 it was the United Arab Emirates Embassy in Washington, a year later Craigslist and last year, and still in progress, was a personal battle against Backpage. This year he has turned his attention to take on the huge resources that are cyberspace’s giant organisations and responsible for the majority of adverts we see in our browsers, namely Twitter, Facebook, Google and Bing.

Back to the original example, Google requires all pharmacy ads to go through both manual and algorithmic vetting before being shown – this may be through a third party and certainly draws from the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practise Sites database available in the US. But for online dating, there is no such registrar, at least across The Pond.

In the UK, we have the Association of British Introduction Agencies that allows you to use their site and find a dating site near you that has been run through rigorous checks and must meet exacting standards of Internet safety before it can appear alongside other dating sites that have qualified similarly.

However, there has been some doubt raised about the impracticability of operating such a system on such a large scale. Also, David Evans of OnlineDatingPost.com reveals that these criminals are ‘like quick-silver’. The moment they know you’re onto them, they disband, disappear and come back braver and uglier than ever.

In the meantime, it seems Cenedella will just have to be patient as Google will only bow to the authorities and has been working closely with them already in an attempt to banish such practises. There is no easy solution and, as much as human traffic is associated with dating sites, it is not the biggest problem this industry faces in criminality; whilst fighting to keep fraudsters off our pages is obviously a good thing, finding extra man hours and budget to cope with spurious ads on free dating sites will be huge costs that many webmasters have not budgeted for.

Cenedella makes an absolutely fair point about the dating ads, but, rather than just point the finger, it would be good to hear him come up with a solution. We wait with bated breath.

Illinois considers mandatory dating site check-ups

For a long time here on dating.org.uk, we have supported calls for a minimum regulatory standard for background checks on all new dating site sign-ups around the globe.

According to one recent survey, three people out of every ten who browse the Internet are members of one online dating facility or another. This is causing major concerns for politicians and security bureaus who are in charge of tracking down online fraudsters. The organised gangs behind online scamming, adept at hiding beyond dating site profiles, are growing in number in relation to the increased numbers of singles flocking to personals sites; many states are now moving to ensure a minimum regulation on dating sites exists to protect its unsuspecting membership from their criminal activities.

Illinois is the latest US state considering passing a bill that enforces dating sites to disclose whether or not they run any security checks on its membership. This could include any number of criminal activities that potential sign-ups may have been involved in over the years being displayed alongside their dating profile so that other singles are fully aware of who it is they may be opening up an online relationship with.

It will not be the first US state to adopt such stringent regulatory procedures, with Texas and New Jersey already administering such programs; New York, possibly the capital of online dating, categorically insists that registered dating sites within its boundaries have a clear checklist of dating safety tips that are accessible and clearly understandable to ensure browsing is undertaken with complete peace of mind.

With recent activities across cyberspace – and the offline world – showing concerns for how much politics and the authorities are restricting online freedoms, the Springfield House is concerned not to be seen as a Big Brother authoritarian, however, it acknowledges its responsibilities to its citizens and as such, the House Consumer Protection Committee have passed the bill for further deliberation in The House, proper.

Whilst the bill awaits approval, State Rep. Michelle Mussman has reminded all Illinoisans that anyone can access the online sex offender or murderer databases available to the public. That may well protect the offline activities of online dating members, but, until mandatory checks are set in stone for all, scammers will still be able to operate, picking off vulnerable singles for their money and ruining what should be one of the most joyous activities of modern day living.