The popular dating website, eHarmony, has settled a consumer protection lawsuit for an estimated $1.28 million to be paid out to four counties and one city in the state of California. The lawsuit was originally brought by the district attorneys in Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Shasta and Napa, as well as the city of Santa Monica. It alleged that eHarmony failed to adequately explain its subscription-fee policy, which led to unexpected charges for its users. It also alleged that eHarmony did not provide a contract explaining its service and failed to explain the proper cancellation procedure.
According to a news release from the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office, eHarmony “did not clearly and conspicuously explain the automatically charged subscription fee, did not provide the consumer with their dating contract, or explain their right to cancel as required by law.”
In addition to the settlement funds, as part of the consumer protection lawsuit, the online dating site will have to pay up to an additional $1 million in restitution to any present or former California users who enrolled in automatic billing for subscription payments over a specified period of time. All users who are eligible for additional compensation will be personally notified.
“Online contracts and subscriptions are more commonplace, and consumers need to be informed of their rights,” said Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Deng, explaining consumer protection laws. “Companies need to make sure that their customers know exactly what they are paying for, what their rights are, and how often they will be charged.” She added, “Sometimes the details aren’t very noticeable so the consumer doesn’t know what they’re getting into. Read the fine print, and know what you’re buying. And companies that choose to offer auto-renewal, they need to make the terms very obvious. They need to be sure that terms of cancellation are clear, conspicuous, and noticeable to consumers.”
A comment from Ronald N. Sarian, eHarmony’s Vice President & General Counsel reads: “Since eHarmony’s inception, we have endeavored to give appropriate contract notices and disclosures to our subscribers. We remain as committed today as we were 17 years ago to providing a high-quality user experience. Without any admission, we have cooperated with the government, which has previously launched similar investigations against a long list of eCommerce companies, and have chosen to settle to avoid the distraction and expense of protracted litigation. In collaboration with the government, eHarmony has implemented a new industry standard when disclosing terms in order to make the user experience even better. With the settlement now behind us, we look forward to continuing the important work of helping singles find enduring love.”
This isn’t the dating site’s first time defending its services in California. In May of last year, eHarmony was sued for refusing to offer its services to gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. The lawsuit alleged discrimination based on sexual orientation and was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on behalf of Linda Carlson, who was denied access to eHarmony because of her orientation. She first complained directly to the company about its lack of a “women seeking women” feature but said this got her nowhere.