Gatsby dating app lets someone steal your heart, not your car

So it comes to this. A new Tinder competitor runs criminal background checks on your dates.

Erin Carson Former Senior Writer
Erin Carson covered internet culture, online dating and the weird ways tech and science are changing your life.
Expertise Erin has been a tech reporter for almost 10 years. Her reporting has taken her from the Johnson Space Center to San Diego Comic-Con's famous Hall H. Credentials
  • She has a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University.
Erin Carson
3 min read

Gatsby makes sure you don't up dating criminals.


The awkward joys of a first date include chit-chat about family, school and jobs. If it's going well, you might delve into shared hobbies. "You're into extreme ironing? Me too!"

Here's what doesn't come up: Your date's arrests for boosting car stereos in Arizona.

Gatsby, a new swiping-based mobile dating app, promises to make such concerns a thing of the past. The app, which went live Wednesday, puts potential romantic partners though a criminal background check.

Based on profile information, Gatsby searches publicly available databases -- you know, sex offender registries and other criminal records -- to make sure lawbreakers stay out of your dating pool. Every month, it rescans so you'll get the latest on someone who may have gone from casual date to serious.

"You may be clean one day and then three weeks later, you're arrested for kidnapping someone's chihuahua or something worse," said Joe Penora, Gatsby's CEO and founder. If the app finds out about your dognapping arrest, you're banned for life.

Penora offers Gatsby for free on iOS. He plans to roll out an Android version in the future.

Dating's always been dicey. Afterall, at some point you're giving your contact info to someone who is little more than a stranger.

Background checks matter

In February 2016, the UK's National Crime Agency said rapes linked to online dating rose to 184 in 2014 from 33 in 2009. Eighty-five percent were women. The agency said online relationships tend to advance quickly, which might give one member the impression it's further along than the other thinks.

The FBI warns online daters of scams in which a suitor builds a relationship, only to ask for money. The targets are often divorced or widowed women over 40, the agency said.

Gatsby isn't the only app designed to make dating safer.

In 2011, Match.com agreed to weed out sex offenders, a decision it made after a California woman sued the dating site after she was sexually assaulted by a man she met through the site. eHarmony also scans for sex offenders.

Stud or Dud lets users search publicly available records for information like criminal background, marital status, bankruptcies and tax records.

Penora came up with the idea for Gatsby after a female friend commented that a guy she met online was so creepy she wondered if he had a criminal record. Penora realized he could theoretically find out.

In 2012, he had launched Friend Verifier, an app that scanned a user's Facebook friends and friend requests for registered sex offenders. During the app's life, it scanned about 13 million unique Facebook accounts, Penora says, indicating people want to know who they're dealing with.

He used the protagonist of the F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 classic "The Great Gatsby" as the inspiration for the app's name. The novel tells the story of a mysterious man unable to wrench himself from a past love. He threw lavish, exclusive Jazz Age parties, somehow grabbing the spotlight while also remaining an enigma.

And as Penora put it, "No one verified who Gatsby was."

It's Complicated: This is dating in the age of apps. Having fun yet? These stories get to the heart of the matter.

CNET Magazine: Check out a sampling of the stories you'll find in CNET's newsstand edition.