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How background check startup Garbo protects people from gender-based violence

Kathryn Kosmides’s experience leaving an abusive relationship inspired her to create an easy way for people to find out more about whom they’re dating

How background check startup Garbo protects people from gender-based violence

After leaving an abusive relationship, Kathryn Kosmides spent $150,000 trying to shield herself from her ex’s escalating harassment. When she learned that most of her legal action would not be publicly accessible, she filed a civil suit to create a public record of her ex’s behavior. “That was my form of justice,” she says, “being able to protect the next woman from this experience.”

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But as Kosmides realized just how difficult—and expensive—it was to access public records, even in instances of gender-based violence, she was driven to create the nonprofit background check platform Garbo, which empowers individuals to access public records of violent crimes for a nominal fee.

With just a first name and phone number, Garbo users can look up records for someone they’ve matched with on an online dating app. Following a seven-figure investment by online dating behemoth (and Tinder parent company) Match Group in March, Garbo’s technology—which scours public records databases across the country—will be piloted on Tinder later this year.

Unlike traditional background checks, Garbo doesn’t disclose sensitive personal details like home addresses when users search for a record. The platform already filters out non-violent offenses like marijuana possession and minor traffic violations, which tend to disproportionately impact people of color. Garbo also relies on input from an advocacy council composed of leaders in racial equity and social policy to help determine what should and shouldn’t be included in its reports.

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“I’m not going to enable you to make racist decisions,” Kosmides says. But she admits she is still grappling with how to evaluate lesser offenses and provide the context and nuance that isn’t reflected in a criminal record. “This stuff really keeps me up at night,” she says. “But you don’t make progress unless you’re willing to have hard conversations.”

Read more about Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business 2021

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About the author

Pavithra Mohan is a staff writer for Fast Company.

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