Proposed law: criminal background warnings for dating, networking sites

Declan McCullagh writes:
Herb Vest believes that true love should come with a criminal-background check. Vest is the chief executive of, an online dating service that pledges to verify whether your dream date is a convicted felon or, worse yet, already married.

"Although criminal-background screening is not entirely foolproof, we owe it to our members to provide a truly wholesome environment for online courtship," Vest said last year.

This would be an engaging but otherwise unremarkable business plan, except for one twist. Instead of competing head-to-head with his rivals in the business world, Vest has veered into the political world by pressing for new laws that would put's competitors at a severe disadvantage.

Vest has managed to convince legislators in states including California, Texas, Virginia, and Michigan to sponsor bills that would target rival dating sites like, Yahoo Personals, Spring Street Networks, craigslist and would regulate far more than just dating sites. The California bill introduced last week covers any Web site offering "compatibility" or "social referral services"--a sweeping definition that encompasses everything from high-school reunion site to a matchmaking site for a tennis doubles tournament.

Under the California proposal, social referral services and Google's would be on the hook for fines of millions of dollars a day if they declined to post a warning similar to the one above on California members' ads or profiles.