Casual dating giant spanked over shoddy data practices

smoochOne of the world’s biggest online dating companies – which manages 35,000 dating sites for clients including London Evening Standard, Bauer, and Dennis Publishing as well as its own casual dating sites such as Smooch and JustSingles – has made legally binding commitments to overhaul its data practices following a Competition & Markets Authority investigation.
The probe of Venntro Media Group, which has over 55 million users worldwide, was sparked by concerns about misleading claims and how it used people’s personal data.
The CMA discovered that people who signed up to Venntro’s websites were often unaware their information would be stored in a central database and that their profiles might be visible on the company’s other dating sites. It also saw complaints from people who said they had signed up for sites featuring explicit adult content without realising that they were doing so.
The CMA was concerned people could have signed up for a specialist site, yet some of the profiles they saw and people they paid to interact with were not actually subscribers to that site and did not necessarily share their interests. It was also worried that in certain circumstances messages sent between these people would not be received.
As a result of the CMA’s investigation, Venntro has made legally binding commitments to make it clear to people before they sign up that it will share their information on other sites and obtain their full agreement to do this. It must provide a list of these sites and will not place members’ profiles on sites containing explicit adult material without their additional active consent.
Venntro must also make it easier for people to delete their profile when their subscription ends and not make misleading claims about the number of members on its sites, or the number of messages sent through those sites.
The CMA’s senior director of consumer protection – the aptly-named George Lusty – said: “With millions of people trusting dating sites to find their perfect match, it’s important they fully understand how personal information will be used, before they sign up, and that sites tell the truth about what they can offer.
“We took action against Venntro because we were concerned people’s profiles were being placed on sites without their knowledge or permission, and that they were being misled about how likely they were to meet someone with common ground. As a result of our investigation, Venntro has now pledged to be more upfront with its customers in future.”
In addition to this action against Venntro, the CMA has sent warning letters to 14 other leading dating websites and app providers demanding they review their terms and practices to ensure they are fair and comply with consumer protection law.
Together with the Information Commissioner’s Office, the CMA has published advice for online dating businesses to explain how to fully comply with both consumer and data protection laws. It has also published advice about what people should watch out for when using online dating services.

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