Entering the website triggered a video of a women speaking to camera. She said
“… its totally free and safe to join and you can be sending and receiving messages with interesting and fun people within a couple of minutes. All you have to do is enter your email address here and click the join button. It’s simple and free. What do you have to lose? …”
Under section four of the terms and conditions in relation to “Standard Membership” the following information was provided:
“4. Standard Membership
(a) Standard Members can access the Website and send and receive messages to other members for free. Not all features of the website are available to standard members but you will be able to contact and be contacted by other people.
(b) Standard Members may contact other members but are NOT permitted to send to other members’ personal/contact information such as for example email address, phone numbers, or arrangements to meet. If you want options like this you must upgrade to Subscription Membership.
(c) All standard members messages are scanned by us (usually by way of an automated script) to check that the service is not being abused and that contact information or arrangements are not being exchanged.
(d) Anyone found to be abusing this service may have their membership suspended or cancelled. We reserve the right to cancel your standard membership, with or without reason, with immediate effect.
(e) Please note that accounts cannot have more than one user for safety and privacy reasons.”
The complainant said that that in becoming a standard member, while the service was advertised as being ‘free’ once the terms and conditions were adhered to, after a short period of time, his experience was that members had their membership suspended and were required to pay and upgrade their membership to continue using the site. He also said that it was difficult to cancel out of the service provided.
The advertisers said that they were Ireland’s leading online dating service with many people signing up to their service since its inception. They said that their website offered two services:
• Free standard membership - A person can register for free, have a profile on-site, search for dates and can send messages to other members, all for free.
• Premium subscription membership - A person can do all the functions of a free standard membership, plus use of the message and events board, advanced search functionality, and most importantly, premium members can exchange personal contact details (emails/phone numbers) and arrangements to meet each other. There is a monthly cost associated with premium membership.
The advertisers said that free members were not permitted to exchange contact details and if they did, they would have a site suspension for a period of time, in accordance with the site terms of usage.
In terms of cancellations, the advertisers said that members simply had to email firstname.lastname@example.org with 3 days notice and their contracts would be cancelled. They said that they also kept a full audit of all their customers and that the ASAI should advise them if further specific details were required.
The ASAI Secretariat considered a detailed response in relation to the complainant’s personal experience in using the service could be provided and would be of assistance were the complainant to be identified to the advertisers. They therefore asked the complainant for his permission to disclose his identity to the advertisers. The complainant agreed to have his identity disclosed.
The Secretariat provided the complainant’s details to the advertisers in the expectation of getting a more comprehensive response in relation to the complainant’s experience. The advertisers did not provide any further comments in the matter.
The Complaints Committee considered the detail of the complaint and the advertisers’ response. They expressed their disappointment that despite indicating that they would provide further details, the advertisers did not provide comments on the complainant’s experience.
The Committee considered that the advertisers had not demonstrated that their members were able to avail of a free service and therefore the advertising was in breach of Sections 2.22 and 2.24 of the Code.
Unless the advertisers ensured that they offered a membership in line with the advertising, the claim should be amended to remove references to ‘free’.