Facebook’s new dating service could be ‘exploited’ by groomers, the NSPCC has warned as questions have been raised over how underage teenagers will be blocked from using the adult service.
The social media giant launched its Facebook Dating feature in the UK Thursday, which allows people to create dating profiles and express a romantic interest in other users.
However, the children’s charity said the features were ‘risky’ for underage teenagers and could be used by potential groomers coax them into ‘virtual dates’.
Facebook, which is available for users from 13 upwards, has said the new feature will only be available on profiles where users have listed their age as over 18.
Facebook told The Telegraph that it would also be monitoring users’ behaviour to identify minors trying to use the dating service.
However, Facebook, like many other social media sites, does not verify users’ ages when they sign up, accepting the date of birth users give when setting up their profile.
Other standalone dating apps have also had issues keeping underage teenagers from using them due to weak age checks.
The NSPCC said the new feature underscored the need for the Government to create an online regulator as soon as possible, saying such a body would have ensured Facebook Dating was not a risk to children before the company rolled it out.
It comes as ministers are drawing up proposals to impose a legal duty of care on tech giants to better protect their users, a policy The Telegraph has been campaigning for since 2018.
Andy Burrows, Head of Child Safety Online Policy at the NSPCC, said: “Dating services are hugely unsuitable for under-18s, and should be subject to robust age verification.
“We know many children exaggerate their age on social media, so Facebook should make clear how it will prevent under-18s from accessing Facebook Dating and protect them from risky design choices that could be exploited by groomers, such as ‘Virtual Dates’.
“The Government’s upcoming online harms legislation must give a regulator the power to lift up the bonnet on platforms to check whether they are designing child protections into their products, with tough sanctions for companies that fail.”
Facebook announced its plans to create a dating feature in 2018, but the release was held up in Europe over concerns from regulators about the additional data it would allow the company to harvest from users.
The new feature allows users to create dating profiles attached to their Facebook accounts and view those of other Facebook and Instagram users with similar interests.
Facebook Dating also allows people to list other users as ‘Secret Crushes’, and will then match them together if the other user also expresses an interest.
Other features that have prompted concern from children’s charities are Facebook Dating’s ability to allow people to start live-streamed video chats as soon as they match.
The NSPCC has previously warned that abusers are increasingly using live streaming to groom and abuse children online.
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