This ambiguity may seem harmless when it relates to physique or hair colour.But other categories might try to describe more significant attributes that aren’t always clear cut, such as sexual health status, sexual interests or gender identity. In 2017, there were two high-profile cases in the UK concerning what could be described as sexual “fraud”, involving defendants found to have deceived their partners about their gender and HIV status, respectively.But evidence from apps is also open to misinterpretation by outside observers.Online dating often comes with its own unwritten set of rules and etiquette that may potentially confuse newcomers.Before criminal trials start to rely on the newer features of dating apps, such as sexual health history and HIV status categories, we need to come up with a way to ensure judges and juries understand how nuanced this evidence might be.A new variety of expert advice is needed, informed by research driven by the real-life experiences of app users, to fill in the gaps in the courts’ knowledge.
But if online evidence continues to be used in trials of offline crimes, the courts need to be careful about treating the information people post and send at face value.
Apps generally create incentives for users to add as much personal information to their profile as possible.
But faced with the choice of missing out on these rewards or revealing more information than they’d like, some users may create a more ambiguous identity.
As dating apps become a more common form of evidence, we need to ensure the courts appreciate the nuances in how some people live out their digital lives. Given how much personal information people can include in their profiles, dating apps might be some of the most powerful sources of digital evidence.
Along with online messages, dating profiles can give juries first-hand insight into the nature of relationships and how the individuals involved present themselves.