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eHarmony Disharmony: eHarmony’s Misleading Ads

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A friend of mine said she was thinking of joining eHarmony, because they have such a high marriage rate – 2% of marriages in the US are of people who met on eHarmony, according to their TV ad, she said. I found this statistic remarkable and started doing some research to find out if it was true.

Not only did I find the ads had been deemed by authorities to be misleading, I also found some other interesting facts about the company which, all added up together, made my friend think twice about joining the site herself

I started with The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), which has called their British TV ads ‘misleading’. The ASA, an authority which ensure advertising meets the standards of the advertising codes, ruled that the eHarmony ads were misleading for two reasons:

1)The ad stated the statistic that, in America, ‘2% of all newlyweds said they met on eHarmony’, a figure extrapolated from results of a 2007 online survey and represented the results as a definitive figure.

2)The ad claimed that users can review matches for free, saying: ‘Get started at eHarmony.co.uk today and review all your matches for free’. In fact, there are significant conditions to obtaining matches on eHarmony and (according to their own website, noted the ASA) 20% of users are not offered any matches at all, so the free service does not apply to all! The ad did not make this clear at any point.

I’m not surprised that using a US statistic to try and entice UK users jarred with viewers, but the point the ASA made was that the ad misrepresented the results of their survey’s findings.

Apart from the relatively low numbers surveyed in the 2007 study, the fact that this was an online survey may well have skewed the results in favour of eHarmony.

Why e-harmony has been seen to mislead people

There is research that shows in August 2009 more than 25% of people in the US don’t regularly use the internet, which means any online survey will not be representative of the whole population. And of course, as usage of the worldwide web is still on an upward curve, the number would have been even higher in 2007.  People who use the internet regularly are, arguably, far more likely to have also met their partners online than, say, respondents to a postal or high street survey.

Another thing to consider is, given the chance to fill in a survey which included questions about online dating, the most likely people to answer would be those who had success with a dating website. Such questions might well interest them more, given that they’ve been there and done it.

All things taken into account, it’s no surprise eHarmony found themselves sitting in the ASA’s naughty corner.

And it’s not the first time they’ve landed in hot water, eHarmony has found itself under the microscope over in the States for some discriminatory practices.

eHarmony was founded by Dr. Neil Clark Warren, an evangelical Christian and has fairly strict rules on who may or may not use their service.

The site has been criticised in the past for not allowing individuals to join if they are separated from their spouses instead of formally divorced, even if they have been separated for many years. But their real problems have arisen when it comes to same sex searches.

eHarmony and gay people

eHarmony didn’t allow gay people to search for partners using their service until recently. After resisting same-sex searches on their site for years, eHarmony agreed in November 2008 to create a site for gay people to search for partners. But it took a lawsuit for this to happen.

eHarmony’s new website, ‘Compatible Partners’, for gay and lesbian users, was made as part of a settlement to Eric McKinley, a gay man from New Jersey who filed a complaint in March 2005, claiming that the lack of a same-sex search option on their site was discriminatory.

In a similar lawsuit, Linda Carlson said she tried to use eHarmony to find a partner but was refused due to her sexual orientation. The Californian sued eHarmony in May 2007, saying it was discriminating against gays, lesbians and bisexuals by not allowing them to search for a partner of the same sex.

What next for eHarmony in the UK?

The most important thing an online dating site can establish is a relationship of trust with its users.  This has not been the best of starts for eHarmony and maybe this is one US export which the UK won’t be buying into.

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