A six-month data watchdog investigation into the £2.5bn online dating industry – designed to crack down on shoddy practices – has been branded “limp as a lettuce” after concluding consumers should read the terms and conditions more carefully.
The Information Commissioner’s Office wrote to the four biggest UK online dating firms – eHarmony, Match.com, Cupid (which owns UniformDating) and Global Personals (which runs FlirtNaughty), as well as the Association of British Introduction Agencies – after it carried out a survey into their operations.
At the time the ICO enforcement team highlighted the main areas of concern that the survey found, and demanded a response to how they were meeting those issues.
The issues highlighted included: poor visibility of the terms and conditions that give the website consent to use personal information in certain ways; T&Cs making reference to the dating company having ‘perpetual’ or ‘irrevocable’ licence to use members’ data; sites claiming to take no responsibility for the loss of or damage to personal information; and users being expected to provide personal details before the T&Cs are provided.
Its major conclusion is to to remind “consumers that they should read the terms and conditions on dating websites before signing up”.
Simon Entwisle, ICO director of operations, said: “Clearly dating websites are going to need to take a lot of personal information from their customers. But it’s crucial they let those customers know how their information is going to be used.
“We’ve had people come to us and say ‘I thought my profile was going on one dating website, but it appeared on a different one’. They’re unhappy, but the company running the site point to terms and conditions that show the information would be used that way.
“The solution is clearer information for consumers. We’ve worked with the top dating websites to make their terms and conditions clearer, but now consumers need to make sure they read them.
“They say the course of true love never did run smooth, but this step might help it run that little bit smoother.”
But one industry source blasted: “Everyone knows consumers rarely read the T&Cs of the websites they use, with recent research suggesting it would take hours to do so. Having claimed it would come down hard on miscreants, this ICO investigation is as limp as a lettuce. It seems dating sites can do virtually whatever they like with your data – and your pictures – so long as they tell you in the T&Cs.”
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