Behind Bumble’s Fight Against Unsolicited Nudes: Read CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd’s Testimony
When Whitney Wolfe Herd founded Bumble back in 2014, safety was central to her mission. She hoped that by flipping the gender dynamic in dating and encouraging women to make the first move, new relationships would be rooted in equality from the start.
Since then, we’ve built an app—and grown a worldwide community— where misogyny, harassment, and bad behavior of any kind are neither welcome nor tolerated. We’ve instituted a raft of safety initiatives, including a ban on hate speech.
After learning one in three women using Bumble had received non-consensual lewd photos—that is, photos they never asked for and didn’t want—we introduced proprietary technology that automatically detects and blurs nude images. Anyone receiving a potentially explicit photo via a Bumble chat will receive the blurred image with a warning—and an option to see the original image, or to block it. We don’t want to stop consenting adults from sharing private images, but we do want to ensure both people involved have consented!
While this technology, called Private Detector, helps keep our community safe from unsolicited lewd photos within our app, the internet at large remains rife with this sort of online abuse. A recent survey of our community shows that the sharing of lewd images causes disproportionate stress to women, those from LGBTQ+ groups, and people from underrepresented backgrounds. The experience of receiving these photos isn’t momentary or fleeting: recipients claim to have been left feeling violated, less trusting of others online, and more vulnerable when using the internet. It can also trigger past traumas.
Bumble has been working with legislators at the state level to establish a deterrent to—and create penalties for—sending unsolicited lewd photos. We started in our home state of Texas, where we backed a bill that passed into law unanimously in 2019. Now, the sharing of a lewd photo online without the recipient’s consent in Texas is a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500.
This year, we’ve worked with legislators to introduce additional state-level bills in both California and New York.
Recently, Bumble founder and CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd testified in support of our bill in California. You can read her full testimony to state lawmakers below, and follow Bumble on Instagram for updates on our advocacy work.
“Mr. Chairman, members of the Committee: Thank you for the opportunity to express my full support for SB 53. By passing this bill, California will establish a much-needed deterrent against a pervasive form of digital harassment and send a strong signal that jeopardizing one’s mental wellbeing cannot be the cost of connecting to modern-day technology.
Allow me to state upfront that I am not asking you to solve a challenge for Bumble’s sake. Having been the target of online harassment myself, I founded Bumble to provide a safe space for people to create healthy and equitable relationships. This mission is built into our product: through the development of our own proprietary tools, we automatically detect, blur, and warn our customers when they may be in receipt of a lewd photo. We then empower our customers to decide if they would like to view it. We also provide them an easy way to report the sender, so that we can keep our entire community safe.
Instead, I am asking you to pass this bill on behalf of millions of women who are the overwhelming victims of this type of digital harassment. Our women customers tell us that they are receiving unwanted—and in some instances triggering—photos on all corners of the internet: in their email boxes, social media accounts, professional networking sites, and even AirDropped directly to their phones. Frequently, these photos are part of a larger effort to harass and bully. Other times, the photos don’t seem to be connected to anything at all. Regardless of the circumstance, our community tells us that this leaves them feeling disempowered and violated.
Further, our customers report that these feelings aren’t temporary. A startling number of customers we recently surveyed said that it makes them distrustful of others online and more vulnerable when using the internet. Think about that: at a time when the COVID-19 crisis has revealed our utter dependence on technology, an act for which there is no legal prohibition nor consequence is having a profoundly disempowering effect on women. SB 53 can change that. Thank you, Senator Leyva, for authoring this important bill.”