The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has initiated legal action against eHarmony in the Federal Court due to allegations of misleading pricing, renewal, and membership duration statements.
According to the consumer watchdog, eHarmony falsely portrayed itself as a free dating site while limiting communication options for basic free members. With the free membership, users can only view blurred pictures of other users and can only send and reply to one message from a premium member. Additionally, non-paying members are restricted to sending one virtual smiley and using the ‘icebreaker’ feature.
To access full functionality such as viewing pictures and sending text messages to and from other members, users must upgrade to a premium membership subscription of six, 12, or 24 months.
“eHarmony’s free basic membership had limited functionality which, we allege, did not allow members to engage in ‘free’ dating with other members, as advertised, but required them to upgrade to a paid premium membership before being able to date,” said Gina Cass-Gottlieb, Chair of the ACCC. The ACCC received numerous complaints from customers.
Despite the allegations, eHarmony’s website still features a “Start Free Today” call-to-action.
The site claims that its free basic membership grants access to millions of relationship-minded singles, unlimited matches, and tools such as Smiles, Icebreaker & Greetings, along with limited messaging capabilities.
According to the ACCC, most of the allegations against eHarmony date back to November 2019 and continue to persist.
The ACCC also stated that eHarmony did not provide accurate cost information for its services and advertised an incorrect monthly rate that excluded a mandatory additional fee for monthly subscriptions. The dating site allegedly misled consumers by implying that it was possible to cancel their subscriptions after signing up, which was not the case for at least two years starting in August 2019.
Customers were also unaware of the automatic renewal scheme, which was only disclosed in small font late in the purchase process and within the terms and conditions.
“Consumers who were considering whether to purchase a premium membership may have been more willing to do so because they thought there was an opportunity to cancel after sign up, or that memberships were cheaper and shorter than they in fact were,” stated Cass-Gottlieb.
The ACCC is seeking penalties, declarations, injunctions, consumer redress, and costs as part of its legal action.
The ACCC claims that eHarmony denied its users the ability to make an informed decision about joining the site and the associated costs.
Meanwhile, eHarmony has stated that it will respond fully to the allegations in court.
“eHarmony is aware of this matter and has fully cooperated with the ACCC throughout its investigation,” the company told 9News.com.au, adding that it cannot comment further due to the ongoing legal proceedings.