El Paso

New dating app weeds out criminals and sex offenders

Dating app Safety

EL PASO, Texas - In this digital age, thousands of people are turning to apps and websites to find love. The "Gatsby" app promises to do that - and weed out criminals and sex offenders.

"Gatsby" was launched in April and founder Joseph Penora tells ABC-7 it's the only dating app that scans every user for criminal and sex offender records. If there is a match, that user is banned from the app.

"These dating apps are opening you up to people, a few miles away, thousands of miles away, and there's nobody out there basically being your wing-man and looking through saying, 'hey that person's not good, that person you should stay away from.' There's no one doing that so you're opening yourself up for a world of hurt," Penora told ABC-7.

Before Gatsby, Penora created an app called "FriendVerifier" which allowed Facebook users to scan their friends and friend requests for sex offenders. Penora says 13 million people were scanned but then Facebook changed how all users could use the platform and pulled the plugged on it.

"We looked at our user base and we tried to figure out, okay, what direction are we going to go into? And over 80% of our users were women 24-50 and many of them were single. So it just came to our heads, why not try a dating app?"

Penora says that's when they thought of creating a dating app with the same system. He says it protects people from getting into a potentially dangerous situation.

"Over 10% of sex offenders openly admitted that they used dating apps as their hunting ground."

Penora says the response has been positive and a few thousand people have already signed up.

"Back when I was in college, this sort of stuff wasn't around and when you met someone new, you had your peer group police your dating. So the ability for someone to do you harm, was vastly marginal at that point. If you were dating someone that was kind of sketchy, your friends said hey, this guy or this girl is sketchy. Stay away from them."

"I think that is a great idea, that is one of the main concerns. I always run a background check when I start dating people, or before I even start dating them. Before I even go out with them I wanna know what's going on with their past," El Pasoan Kerstin Klingstedt said.

Still, Klinstedt tells ABC-7 she's a bit skeptical when meeting online dates.

"You have no idea where they're coming, what stories are true, what stories aren't true. There's a lack of honesty, everyone is trying to one up each other and come up with a false story," Klingstedt said.

Penora says some dating websites Match.com only scan for sex offenders, which still poses a threat to users.

"Just scanning for sex offenders, you're missing out on domestic violence, or people that steal people's identities, theft, drug traffickers, so we really feel that if you're going to do the best for your users, you gotta scan for everything."

Using the app is simple, you download, create a profile, swipe left if you don't like a person, swipe right if you do.
"All the science, wingman tests, I guess you could call it, happens on the back end. We built a sophisticated algorithm that analyzes every stitch of data every user enters into the app and we compare that against criminal, sex offender databases," Penora said.

Penora says building upon the app and weeding out fake profiles is a daily task. A new version will be launched in September that will help prevent fake users.

"You look at it not just a physical danger, but emotional danger and it's going to affect how people interact with people they might be closed off when they find the right person and miss out on that opportunity."

The app is available for download for Apple and Android phones. The first month is free.


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