California lawmaker wants to ban sending unwanted nude pics

08 November 2019, Brandenburg, Sieversdorf: A woman with red fingernails writes a message on her smartphone. Photo: Patrick Pleul/dpa-Zentralbild/ZB (Photo by Patrick Pleul/picture alliance via Getty Images)

A California state senator wants to make it a crime to send unwanted nude photos to people online or in text messages.

Exposing yourself on the street is a crime, but the law is less clear when it happens online. Earlier this year, Texas criminalized the digital act of sending unwanted nude photos to people through dating apps or other digital means, making it a Class C misdemeanor with a fine of up to $500.

The dating app Bumble, which worked to get the Texas law passed earlier this year, announced Thursday that the company was partnering with Republican state Sen. Ling Ling Chang to bring the law to California.

“Sending somebody a photo of yourself in an indecent manner in an unsolicited fashion is harassment, plain and simple,” Bumble CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd said. “It’s a gateway to more extreme forms of harassment and abuse and it should not be taken lightly, and it deserves consequences.”

Chang, whose district includes parts of Los Angeles, said she plans to introduce the bill in January when the Legislature returns to work. Chang said she agreed to author the bill in part because she has heard “horrific stories” of women who have been digitally harassed.

“We need to send a message that this culture of online harassment must go,” she said.

A survey by the Pew Research Center in 2017 found 21% of women ages 18 to 29 have reported being sexually harassed online compared to 9% of men in that same age group. About 53% of those women said they had been sent unwanted explicit photos.

Like most states, California outlaws “revenge porn.” But that law applies to when someone posts a nude photo online of someone else with the intent “to cause emotional distress.” California also outlaws stalking using electronic devices such as cellphones, but the law does not specifically address unwanted nude or lewd photos.

In 2017, then-California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law requiring online dating apps to post safety tips, including ways to report concerns.

Bumble says it has 80 million users worldwide. It is like other dating apps, but it only allows women to initiate conversations with potential partners. The company says this eliminates most unwanted, aggressive behavior from men toward women.

In an interview, Herd acknowledged unwanted lewd photos still happen, but said it is not limited to Bumble and is an issue across the digital landscape. She noted it’s also a problem for women whose cellphone settings allow for unsolicited messages from others nearby.

Earlier this year, Bumble was one of several dating apps to begin using artificial intelligence to detect nude photos. The app will blur the images and give the recipient a chance to view it or delete it. Users can also report the person who sent it.

After getting the law passed in Texas, Herd said she wanted to bring it to California “to show that this is a nonpartisan issue.”

“This is a human issue,” she said.