ACCC Sues eHarmony Over Deception

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Sydney, Sept 7: The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has launched legal proceedings in the Federal Court against the dating site eHarmony Inc.
The ACCC alleges that eHarmony breached the Australian Consumer Law by making misleading statements regarding membership pricing, renewal, and duration.
The ACCC’s case revolves around eHarmony’s alleged misleading representations, including claims of offering “free dating,” automatic membership renewal, inaccurate price displays, and statements about “one month” memberships and early cancellation options.
These allegations date back to at least November 2019, with the ACCC contending that most of these issues persist.
ACCC Chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb emphasized the significance of dating apps as personal services and highlighted the potential vulnerability of consumers to misleading practices in such intimate transactions.
The ACCC received numerous consumer complaints about eHarmony’s memberships and is alleging that eHarmony deprived consumers of the opportunity to make informed choices about their dating service and expenses.
The automatic renewal of memberships is a central issue in the case.
The ACCC claims that eHarmony engaged in misleading conduct by giving consumers the false impression that their premium membership subscriptions were for initial periods of 6, 12, or 24 months when, in fact, they automatically renewed, sometimes at significantly higher prices.

A page from eHarmony’s website, below, shows examples of its ‘free dating’ statements.

eHarmony is alleged to have inadequately disclosed this automatic renewal, with crucial information hidden in small fonts late in the purchasing process and within terms and conditions.
Furthermore, eHarmony allegedly misrepresented the functionality of its free “basic” membership, which did not allow for ongoing two-way communication, contrary to what was advertised.
Basic members were only able to “like” profiles, send limited messages, and use certain features. To engage in more substantial communication and full use of the platform, users were required to upgrade to a paid “premium” membership.
The ACCC also claims that eHarmony failed to display accurate minimum and total prices, misleading consumers with incorrect monthly prices that did not include mandatory additional fees for monthly payments.
Statements about one-month memberships and cancellations are also part of the ACCC’s case.
They allege that eHarmony falsely represented that consumers could subscribe for one month, while memberships were only available for 6, 12, and 24 months with automatic renewal.
Additionally, eHarmony allegedly falsely suggested that consumers could easily cancel their memberships after signing up, potentially influencing consumers to purchase memberships.
The ACCC consulted eHarmony in 2016 during the development of best practice guidelines for dating websites, which emphasized the importance of transparent information for consumers.
Despite this, the ACCC believes eHarmony should have been aware of the need to provide clear and accurate information to consumers.
The ACCC seeks penalties, declarations, injunctions, consumer redress, costs, and other remedies in this legal action.
Consumers who encountered problems with eHarmony subscriptions or paid more than advertised are encouraged to contact the ACCC’s Infocentre.
eHarmony Inc, a US-based company, offers dating services in Australia through its website and app, with the Australian subsidiary handling payments from Australian consumers.
eHarmony is part of the German-American ParshipMeet Group.

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