Internet Law: The New Jersey Legislature recently passed the “Internet Safety Dating Act,” making it one of the first states to enact legislation of this nature, aimed at protecting against online predators. Notably, the law applies to all websites that offer services to New Jersey residents. A website, even if not based in New Jersey, must comply with the law’s edicts if it will have New Jersey residents that access or otherwise use the website. The law became effective May 12, 2008.
The Internet Safety Dating Act requires an “Internet Dating Service,” to provide certain disclaimers on its website with regard to whether or not the site conducts criminal background screenings on website members. Importantly, the Act defines an “Internet Dating Service” quite broadly. Such a service is deemed to be any “person or entity directly or indirectly in the business, for a profit, of offering, promoting or providing access to dating, relationship, compatibility, matrimonial or social referral services principally on or through the Internet.” This has been analyzed as including social networking websites.
Subject websites must provide a series of disclaimers, such as:
- Providing specific safety awareness notifications that, without limitation, include a “list and description of safety measures reasonably designed to increase awareness of safer dating practices.” Though the Act provides some flexibility in terms of how a website can accomplish this, it provides examples and suggestions for such a notification.
- If the website will not be conducting criminal background screenings, it must disclose, clearly and conspicuously, to all New Jersey members the fact that it does not conduct such screenings. The disclosure must be written in bold, capital letters in at least 12 point font. The law further specifies how the disclosure needs to be sent to members, and mandates that it be sent through at least two of those forms.
- On the other hand, if the website does conduct criminal background screenings prior to allowing a member to join the site, the website needs to include that as a disclosure on the website. Again, this disclosure must be written in bold, capital letters in at least 12 point font. This disclosure needs to be on all website pages used when a New Jersey member signs up.
- Further, if the website does conduct such screenings, it will need to disclose whether it nevertheless allows someone who is identified as having had a criminal conviction to enter the site and communicate with New Jersey members. The law also mandates that it also provide notice to members that all criminal background screenings are not foolproof, that they may provide a false sense of security, and other disclosures along these lines.
The Internet Safety Dating Act was enacted under New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud statute. Accordingly, a violation of the Act constitutes a violation of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, and without limitation, a violator may be subject to treble (3x) damages.
We therefore recommend the following:
- In light of the national (and international) reach of websites, we recommend that all companies that operate a website that might be construed as a dating or social networking site comply with the New Jersey law, regardless of whether it has a direct relationship to New Jersey. Unless you are expressly prohibiting New Jersey residents from joining or using your site, arguably, by merely launching your website, you are offering your services to New Jersey residents and therefore need to comply with the Internet Safety Dating Act.
- All subject websites should immediately consult with counsel in order to have their screening protocols and disclaimers reviewed to ensure compliance with the Internet Safety Dating Act.