The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has launched a lawsuit against online dating site eHarmony over ads that tried to lure consumers in with promises of “free dating.”
Harmony was offering users the chance for a free subscription after completing an 80-question compatibility quiz. However, this membership did not allow users to communicate with matches properly, the ACCC has alleged.
Instead, the free option only allowed users to see blurred, unrecognisable profile photos of other members and did not permit them to engage in ongoing communication, according to the watchdog.
The free members were allowed to like other profiles, receive and send a single reply to one message from a premium user, use the icebreaker feature or send a smiley (bleugh).
The ACCC has also alleged that Harmony tried to trap singles into signing up for six, 12 or 24-month memberships when they automatically renewed and charged users hundreds of dollars.
“The ACCC is concerned about the issue of subscription traps in digital services,” the commission’s chair, Gina Cass-Gottlieb said.
“We remind digital platforms of the need to be clear with consumers about renewals and cancellations.”
She also said that consumers using online dating may be more at risk of succumbing to misleading or manipulative selling practices.
“Dating apps provide important services that are used by many Australians to meet new people and make connections and they have become an intrinsic part of many people’s social lives,” Cass-Gottlieb said.
“These are personal services, and consumers may bring a different state of mind to these interactions than a commercial one.”
The ACCC wants eHarmony to pay penalties, costs and make declarations to the court, as well as injunctions and consumer redress.
An eHarmony spokesperson said the company had co-operated with the ACCC, but could not comment further as the matter was before the court.
“We deeply value the experience of all our members, including our Australian members, and we take our compliance obligations seriously,” she said.
“We intend to fully respond to the ACCC’s allegations in court.”
Of course, as many members of the B&T staff know, any promise of “free dating” is always too good to be true — especially given how quickly we can put away a schooner of Tooheys New.
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