In 2018, I founded Garbo after seeing firsthand the issues survivors face with the justice systems, public record access, and fighting for their safety in the digital age.
I wanted to prevent what happened to me from happening to others — and set out to build a new kind of online background check system along with tools and educational resources that focused on balancing privacy and protection.
Last year, Garbo launched our new kind of online consumer background check application.
Since then, Garbo has helped more than 2.5 million people to identify red flags and if someone has a history of harm through our technology, tools, and educational resources. We’ve worked with countless expert advocates and organizations, including The National Domestic Violence Hotline, The National Center for Victims of Crime, RAINN, and so many other incredible organizations and folks who gave their time and talent to help us try to revolutionize the broken system of background checks and public record access.
While we know our technology has helped millions of people, with 1 in 6 background check searches on Garbo showing a harmful or violent record, we’ve also faced immense challenges in the past few years.
That’s why it’s difficult to announce plans to shut down our consumer background check app as of August 31, 2023. If you’re a Garbo user, you can scroll down for more information on the closure of the app and how to request a refund for unused purchased search credits.
This decision came after Garbo chose to end our partnership signed in 2021 with Match Group. We will honor user search credits claimed by their users through August 31, 2023.
Over the last few years, we have faced a lack of support and real initiative from online platforms, continuous harassment and threats by bad actors on these platforms, and the prolific issues across the justice systems including access to proper local, state and federal government records is deteriorating by the day. The ripple effects of these issues have impacted victims and survivors, the organizations serving them, and Garbo.
It’s been heartbreaking to see access to vital information become more and more difficult for people to access. We’ve heard from survivors who have reported and gone through the systems only to have the records of the bad actor be inaccessible due to local jurisdiction laws, expunged or sealed without their knowledge, and who watch severe gender-based violence offenses not tried or the charges severely reduced.
Through all of this, we were put to the test in terms of how to balance the highly intersectional issues we face daily. Garbo focused on not compromising our values, never allowing profit to rule over protection, and not giving in to forces pushing us to build technology we disagree with.
But this is not the end of Garbo. Far from it.
Garbo will remain operating as a 501c3 nonprofit organization and will be shifting back to being volunteer run as of September 1, 2023.
Garbo plans to use the next few months to refocus our efforts on further ways to directly empower individuals with new and innovative tools to protect themselves from gender-based violence and other interpersonal harms in the digital age. We also plan to continue fiercely advocating for reforms in the criminal justice and public record systems to protect victims and hold bad actors accountable.
This is what we truly believe is best for victims and survivors, users of online platforms, and for Garbo as an organization. It also allows us to stay true to our core values and ensure that we aren’t forced to compromise our mission and vision. We’re fortunate to have the full support of our board of directors, and we believe we’ll have the full support of experts, advocates, and our community as we continue to operate from our core values of transparency, accountability, and access to information to make informed decisions.
The journey so far has been incredible – and that’s because of you. From volunteers to experts who gave me their time with me throughout the years to continuously help me listen and learn, to our users, who I know our technology helped protect against thousands of interactions with violent bad actors, and every person who believed in me and believed in Garbo — I am forever grateful.
If you want to be a part of this next step in Garbo’s journey, please reach out to us at email@example.com and let us know how you’re interested in helping - from feedback, collaboration, to volunteering and other various ways to support us in this next chapter.
You can read the official press release here.
Why is Garbo shutting off their online background check platform?
Garbo is pausing our work on our background check app for several reasons.
First, it’s become clear that most online platforms aren’t legitimately committed to trust and safety for their users. There are some great companies that do take our mission to heart, but the sad reality is that most social networks, dating apps and online platforms care more about the bottom-line than they care about you.
Second, local governments are making it harder and harder for individuals to get easy, affordable, simple access to vital public record information needed to identify red flags that inform your decisions on who to engage with online and in-person. The costs for performing searches are rising, and in some places, are used as a revenue source. There’s also no uniform standards for reporting the information we really need for proper and consistent records. And there’s a disturbing trend of bad actors undermining the criminal justice and public record systems by utilizing loopholes and sealing/expunging their records of gender-based violence and other serious harms while threatening Garbo and other organizations.
It’s become clear that Garbo needs to adjust our focus to tech tools that more directly educate and empower you to control your personal safety in the digital age while mitigating risk to our team, our board, and to victims and survivors.
Is Garbo shutting down as an organization?
No. Garbo will continue its mission to prevent harm in the digital age as a 501c3 nonprofit organization, but will switch to a volunteer-led organization for now. We are shifting our model to deliver resources and solutions that more directly empower you to control your personal safety in the digital age.
What if I still need to run a background check?
Garbo believes in the power of public record access - Garbo does not believe in people search sites or other for-profit online background checks.
Background checks are prohibitively expensive for most people, a problem that was one the primary reasons for creating Garbo. In New York, for example, a criminal background check that sources public information costs $95. This immense expense excludes the most vulnerable people in society from ensuring their own safety, and it’s why we’re shifting our model to work closer with local governments.
However, there are many resources available to you including local jurisdiction government websites, the US federal PACER system, and sites like Judy Records and others. Each jurisdiction will have its own policies and practices regarding what information is available online through their public record systems.
We do not recommend using a people search site or other online background check site because they allow people, including bad actors to opt out or delete records, they are not transparent about their data access and sources, and they often resell your data, including your usage data of their platforms. If you do use these sites, we suggest being cautious with what information you use to sign up, ensuring you understand their billing practices, and be wary when and if you don’t find someone you search for.
Should any new “online background check” application pop up or should any platforms try to replace Garbo, we recommend a heavy dose of skepticism.
When is the last day I can run a search on Garbo?
Garbo’s background check platform will remain in service through August 31, 2023. After that, you will no longer be able to run a search on Garbo.
What do I do if I still have unused search credits? Can I get a refund?
If you have unused credits in your Garbo account that you’ve purchased, you can request a refund. Please fill out this short form so we can process your refund. This form must be completed before October 31, 2023 at 11:59pm ET.
What if I have unused search credits that I redeemed through a Garbo partner? (i.e. Match, Tinder, PlentyofFish, Stir, HUD, or Roomi)
Unfortunately, we are not able to offer individual refunds for search credits claimed through a Garbo partner.
What is Garbo going to do with my user data?
Your privacy and safety has always been at the center of everything we do. Garbo will not sell or share any personal data collected through our platform. We plan to delete all user account data collected during sign up by September 30, 2023.
Should you have any questions, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
I still have questions. What should I do?
Please reach out to us at email@example.com so we can help answer your questions.
We work with online platforms to help proactively protect their communities through our innovative background check system. Get in touch to learn more about how we can integrate Garbo or help you proactively screen users at sacale.