Modern Mating

When Technology and the Sexes Collide

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Nuisances with lawyers

The internet dating industry is growing up. Its growth is stabilizing. It's attracting a more mature clientele . And now it's the subject of nuisance lawsuits!

Last fall, Soheil Davood sued JDate. He alleges that a woman on the site (or at least someone purporting to be a woman) first engaged him in a flirtatious conversation online where she boasted about working for a lingerie manufacturer. After she badgered him to call her, he finally gave in and phoned her, only to receive "a taunting message telling him that he was rejected." Soheil felt that JDate promised an efficient way of finding high-quality Jewish women to date. He has sued JDate as he believes the site is "defective" and inadequately monitored as encounters like the one he experienced expose the users to a risk of "psychological harm."

Match.com and Yahoo!Personals are also the subject of similarly frivolous lawsuits. In November, Matthew Evans filed suit against Match. Evans contends that Match.com has employees who serve as "date bait", i.e., who target people just as their subscriptions are about to expire, by winking, flirting, and even going out to dinner with them. Evans believes that the company was so eager to retain his subscription fees, that they sent an attractive woman out on a date with him. Match.com quickly fired back with a sworn statement from the woman, asserting that she had "never been an employee of Match.com, nor was she ever paid to go on dates with any members or subscribers." Evans and his lawyers were trying to muster a class-action suit in a clear effort at corporate shake-down.

In October, Robert Anthony filed suit against Yahoo. Anthony believes that as his subscription was up for renewal, he received notice of many new matches to his profile. None of the matches turned into dates, and instead of cancelling his subscription, Anthony contacted a lawyer. Yahoo has sought to dismiss the lawsuit. Earlier this week, a judge ruled in Anthony's favor, saying that there was adequate evidence to allow his fraud claim to go forward.

One of the most absurd suits is from John Claassen, a California lawyer. Claassen tried to join eHarmony while in the process of getting divorced. eHarmony has a policy to match only people who are "free of relationship commitments" (i.e., unmarried), and as a consequence, Claassen - though separated - was ineligible to use their services. When Claassen contacted eHarmony to complain, he was told he'd be welcome to join once his divorce was final. While he could always join Match.com, for instance, which permits separated people to have memberships, for whatever reason he is intent on joining eHarmony, where customer surveys indicate a strong preference by its users for matches who are divorced, widowed or never married . Despite the fact that he would be unwelcome by most eHarmony's users, Claassen was intent to join. Channeling his legal expertise and a rabid desire to date, Claassen believes that this policy violates California state laws because it discriminates against him on the basis on his marital status. He is seeking civil penalties of $12,000.

While some of the small dating sites undoubtedly play tricks on customers as a means of generating more revenues, the large sites like Match and Yahoo are not going to go to the trouble of assigning employees to flirt with customers whose monthly memberships are about to expire. The economics of it simply do not make sense. Matthew Evans allegations of "date bait" are absurd. Evans was paying $25/month for his Match.com membership, and a typical term of renewal is 3 months (which are typically discounted). Therefore an incremental subscription from him would represent between $60 and $75. For Match.com to hire an attractive girl for him to have a meal with would cost at least $20 to $40. The economics of this fantasy simply do not work out.

Does Yahoo post fake profiles and reuse photos? It seems unlikely that they're trying to scam customers when there are so many people posting perfectly wonderful profiles every day. Do some users create multiple profiles? Absolutely. Just watch the movie "Must Love Dogs". This practice isn't fraud, it's fantasy.

Now as for the men who have been harmed by the dating sites.....First, because JDate didn't protect him from a rude member, and second, because eHarmony sought to protect its existing members from someone who didn't meet the site's criteria. These guys need to grow up.