- While people may engage in illegal activities, dating apps are completely legal
- Morality between consenting adults is subjective, in an ideal world honesty is key
SUGAR dating has been in the news more often than usual in the past few weeks, the articles garnering all kinds of reactions from the public ranging from outrage to indifference. The reason for the ruckus is the dating app TheSugarBook.
TheSugarBook is a dating app for people who want relationships in which financial stability is a deciding factor. It provides a platform from which sugar babies can meet sugar daddies or mummies.
The Malaysia-based app was launched in the country late last year (it was first launched in the US in 2016). It currently has about 90,000 active users worldwide, the majority of whom are in Malaysia with the rest in Singapore, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, the UK and the US.
Founder Darren Chan has previously stated that TheSugarBook’s goal is to connect people from all over Southeast Asia and the world and enable them to build honest and transparent relationships.
This is certainly a reasonable premise for a dating platform, and TheSugarBook has found a niche in which to grow, Chan hopes, without too much competition from the ‘big boys’ such as Tinder and Match.com.
However, it is this differentiation that is making waves and pushing buttons.
All legal and above board
One of the most-asked questions about TheSugarBook is whether or not such a service is legal.
“There is no law against couple matching services in Malaysia unless it is for prostitution or other illegal purposes,” says Foong Cheng Leong (pic), deputy chairperson of The Malaysian Bar’s Information Technology & Cyber Law Committee.
TheSugarBook’s terms and conditions of use state that a user has to be 18-years-old and above to register a profile and it has strict rules and regulations about what users put on their profiles. Only clear photos that show the full face are permitted – no children or pets – and vulgar and aggressive language is prohibited. Users are not allowed to solicit sex or even state that they are only looking for sex.
Of course, this does not in any way prevent users from soliciting and engaging in sexual activity in exchange for money once they meet in the real world. While this is illegal in Malaysia and other countries TheSugarBook is active in, it is reasonable to believe that the platform can have no way of knowing that this activity is going on if it happens.
Chan says that as TheSugarBook abides by Malaysia’s Personal Data Protection Act 2010, it does not read users’ conversations on the app. Instead, it relies on users to report each other; users have access to a report button and a support email address to report illegal activity, underage use and other non-compliance with rules.
“We take illegal activities very seriously. We can’t stop people from doing it but we can try to prevent such activities from escalating once we are notified of them,” he says.
It must be pointed out that other popular dating apps such as Tinder or Grindr (a social networking app for LGBTQ people) could also have users who met on the app engaging in illegal activities outside of it. Many of these platforms do not enable users to report other users or have such strict regulations regarding user profiles as TheSugarBook does and it is quite usual for users to state on their profiles that they are only looking for casual sex.
According to Foong, such platforms should not be liable for what its users do outside the platform.
TheSugarBook has several checks in place to ensure age restrictions are met. The profiles of new users are checked by moderators before being approved. The platform also provides an option for users to sign up with their Facebook profiles, where the profile will state their age.
The platform’s student programme, which encourages college and university students to sign up using their student emails, provides another form of check on age – a college or university student would most likely be 18 and above.
Users may also report a user who seems to be too young. TheSugarBook spokesperson Jessica Ong says that on receiving such a report, TheSugarBook will investigate and ask for photo identification from the user. If he or she is indeed underage, they will be banned from the platform.
Though TheSugarBook does seem to be using discretion when it comes to ensuring no underage activity, none of these checks can actually guarantee that a user cannot lie their way through to a verified profile. A user could use someone else’s photo and enter their age as older, as they could on their Facebook profile, and a college student could very well be under 18.
However, being below 18 is not actually a legal requirement for registering a profile on a dating app in Malaysia. “Currently, there are no laws stipulating the minimum safety requirements of a couple matching platform,” says Foong.
“Assuming that a minor circumvents the age requirement and falsely pretends to be a person of 18 and above, I don't think such platform would be doing anything illegal,” he continues.
Next page: Public perception and consenting adults