What’s worse than an Imaginary girlfriend?

How about a scam date who’s creates the illusion that your subscribtion to paid dating sites is succeeding?

A lawsuit was filed earlier this month in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles by plaintiff Matthew Evans, who contends he went out with a woman he met through the site who turned out to be nothing more than “date bait” working for the company.

The relationship went nowhere, according to his suit. Evans says Match set up the date for him because it wanted to keep him from pulling the plug on his subscription and was hoping he’d tell other potential members about the attractive woman he met through the service.

On the one hand, this business practice seems clearly wrong. On the other hand, it raises the question of just what these paid subscribers are entitled to. There’s no guarantee that they’ll meet someone they like, fall in love, and live happily ever after, is there? Are they entitled to genuine “market reactions” to their datability — whatever those reactions might be?

Follow up questions include: Would a single “real” bad date really be better than two or three pleasant enough “fake” dates? Is this really so much worse than “real” dating using a paid “wingman”? And is Match.com’s sham date worse than going on a “real” date because one’s parents or friends pester one to do so, rather than out of actual romantic interest in the person dated? The ethical boundaries here seem to be not so clearly defined.

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8 Responses

  1. Mike says:

    The ethical boundaries here seem to be not so clearly defined.

    Sure they are. Match.com lied to the paid subscriber by making his believe he was on an actual date. They lied to him so that he would continue giving them money. Lying to someone to get their money is wire fraud: it’s also unethical. Indeed, what Match.com did actually has term of art attached to its conduct: it’s called “lulling.”

    A crook “lulls” you into believe his practice is legal by ensuring that you obtain some desired result. Here, Match.com lulled its customer into believing that its practice was effective by setting him up on a fake date.

    Imagine my mutual fund isn’t doing so well, and my broker can sense I’m about to leave. He thus adds money to my account to keep my business. Putting aside the illegality of that; would it be ethical to send to a fool’s paradise so that he could continue to get my money?

    I sure hope, and I hope you reconsider your initial view.

  2. David says:

    The cool thing, it sounds like, is that the lonely person did get to go out on a date with an attractive person; which, he might not have been able to any other way. I do have to agree with Mike that it should, if its not, be unlawful. If the victim in this case was just dumped by a date then the site shouldn’t be accountable. The site scammed this person out of their money. The victim should receive his membership subscription back and an investigation of the company should happen. 🙂

  3. Kaimi says:

    It seems like there is the outside chance that the fake date will really turn into something real. (Sort of like a Wings of the Dove situation). And in fact, that chance (5%) may be more than the chance that a particular person has of finding a date the old-fashioned way. So I’m not sure that there was really nothing of value received.

    But I do think that the practice crosses some ethical line. As far as where to draw the line, though, I’m less sure.

  4. Orin Kerr says:

    You are assuming that the allegations in the complaint are true, right? That seems quite unlikely to me given that, according to the article, Match.com only has 250 employees.

  5. John Armstrong says:

    So that explains it…

  6. c&d says:

    On the other hand, it raises the question of just what these paid subscribers are entitled to.

    Contracts include an implicit “good faith” requirement. Sending out a fake date would clearly violate a dating service contract.

    There’s no guarantee that they’ll meet someone they like, fall in love, and live happily ever after, is there?
    No, but that is not the issue. The guarantee is that they will have the opportunity to meet someone and that they will not be fooling into thinking their chances using the on-line system (or any system) are better than they really are.

    Would a single “real” bad date really be better than two or three pleasant enough “fake” dates? Yes. A date is often more than a meal and pleasant conversation; it is an emotional investment. Knowing that you have been played the fool would counter-act any pleasant experience you had.

    Is this really so much worse than “real” dating using a paid “wingman”?

    Worse in what way? Is match.com allegedly worse than a person who uses the wingman service? This question concerns two very different ethically questionable activities. In one the service is tricking its customer, in the other the service is helping its customer trick someone else. With respect to the customer/business relationship, the match.com alleged activity is much worse because the wingman service does not trick its customer.

    And is Match.com’s sham date worse than going on a “real” date because one’s parents or friends pester one to do so, rather than out of actual romantic interest in the person dated?

    This question is a ambiguous: Is Match.com’s behavior worse than the behavior of family/friends who pester? Or is the Match.com behavior worse than the person who agrees to go out with someone they don’t like? Or is the outcome for the customer worse than the outcome for the person set up by family/friends with someone who does not like them?

    And again, I have to ask, what do you mean by “worse”?

    Match.com clearly is “worse” than the family/friends. The family and friends have the interest of the couple in question while Match.com is focused on extracting money from its customer. Intention is important in deciding whether an action is ethical.

    Match.com only has 250 employees.
    I’m not saying the allegations are true, but have you heard of independent contractors? Most merchandising positions are not filled by the company who is having its services promoted.

    As far as where to draw the line, though, I’m less sure.
    How about… don’t lie to your customers, either explicitly or implicitly.

  7. Dave Hoffman says:

    Doesn’t the answer to the expectation question depend a great deal on what Match promises in the subscriber agreement? We don’t have to get to good faith, as C&D suggests, if there is an explicit language that you’ll meet “actual singles” or the like.

    I’m surprised that a state AG hasn’t taken on this type of case. High publicity value, high expectation of settlement, interesting discovery…

  8. I wrote a post on my blog that comes to a slightly different perspective. I would be amazed that Match.com could pay someone to go on a date to secure a six month membership of about $78. And do this hundreds or thousands of times-seems like a lot of work for a little money!

    Pay $78 and date several attractive “fake” dates? If that’s not value for the money, I don’t know what is. Match.com should promote this as a membership benefit!