Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Is Online Dating a Ripoff?

It created quite a sensation when the online dating site for married people AshleyMadison.com was hacked, exposing many of its clients who for obvious reasons, don't want to be publicly identified.

The NYT article in this link describes how Ashley Madison's CEO suffered the same fate as other executives of companies who went through hacking scandals - the loss of his job.

So what was the motivation of the hackers to do what they did? A logical guess would be that they wanted to expose the adulterers. But that was not the case.
When hackers leaked Ashley Madison’s data this month, they accused the company of fraudulent business practices, like overstating how many women actually used AshleyMadison.com. One analysis showed that of the site’s roughly 34 million users, only 15 percent were female, and that only a small slice of those profiles were actually active.
That could constitute a deceptive trade practice that could open Avid Life Media to an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission.
Even worse, the author of the Gizmodo article in this link after surveying the dumped internal E-mails from Ashley Madison "...found ample evidence that the company was actively paying people to create fake profiles."

The next logical question is whether shady practices like these are unique to Ashley Madison or are typical of other online dating sites. 

Since there are many online sites, this posting will look at match.com and eHarmony.com since these are the two dominant players and leave it to the reader to research any of the other sites if desired.

While fake profiles are not likely common, many frustrated online dating subscribers believe that at least some of the profiles presented are inactive - possibly people who have found a relationship and are no longer looking or others who have given up and ended their subscriptions.

Because the online dating process is so lacking in transparency to protect identities of subscribers, such accusations are very difficult to prove. But some have tried. Here is an example from Wikipedia's article on match.com
Another class-action lawsuit was filed in December 2010, alleging that the site maintains thousands of inactive, fake and fraudulent profiles on its dating site to mislead and lure consumers into subscribing.[21] The judge in the case ruled on August 10, 2012 that Match.com did not breach its user agreements with consumers because the agreements "in no way requires Match.com to police, vet, update the website content" or guarantee the accuracy of profiles on the site.[21]
It is worth pointing out that the judge in siding with match.com did not say that the accusations were false but essentially said that the legalese in the user agreements protects any unethical conduct they may have done from lawsuits.

Wikipedia's article on eHarmony points out the practice of matching paying members with non-paying members (without the paying member's knowledge). But unless it is during a so-called "free communication weekend" the non-paying member cannot see let alone respond to messages from anybody.

Also noted, in the interest of transparency for its subscribers, eHarmony announced in March, 2012 that they would provide login activity information with each profile to address the concerns over inactive profiles. Then in May, 2015 they deleted all activity information on the profiles. So what do they have to hide?

For the reader who Googles "online dating reviews", consumeraffairs.com offers about 1500 reader comments each for Match and eHarmony. Just about all are extremely negative for both.

While many wrote about poor matches and what they believed to be inactive profiles, the most bitter complaints were over the billing practices where money was deducted from credit card accounts at unpredictable times and amounts. Even worse was when subscribers thought their accounts were closed only to find more withdrawals and sometimes accounts renewed automatically because the subscriber forgot to turn off the auto-renew for which 'on' is the default position.

So what grades does the Better Business Bureau give these companies?

Match got an F along with their accreditation being revoked. Frankly, I expected the same for eHarmony and got a shock to see that they got an A+!

What's going on here? A look at the BBB complaints for each company are pretty similar ones about their pretty similar billing practices. The difference is that while Match thumbed their nose at the BBB complaints, eHarmony when pushed hard enough by the BBB did the right thing for the customer. Just don't try to fight them on your own.

So what's the bottom line here? There are certainly some success stories where people find the love of their life just like in the ads. But what they don't tell you is that these successes are in the clear minority.

For those who still want to give online dating a chance, I suggest doing your research. Look up reviews on the sites you are interested in and ask single friends who have used online dating about their experiences with certain sites. Managing expectations is important to keeping the almost inevitable setbacks from becoming devastating. And since these companies (not to mention online scammers out there) are pretty slick about separating you and your money, perhaps the most important thing to remember here is...buyer beware!