opinion

A Dating Landscape That’s Full of Tricks and Liability

Stewart Tongue

For quite a while rumors have persisted that dating sites utilize underhanded ways of interacting with new members to give a misleading sense that they are joining a much more robust community than they have visited.

Free dating sites in mainstream and adult have been targeted in the past by civil lawsuits and governmental actions aimed at protecting consumers from these sorts of practices. This past November it came out that Match.com was facing the weight of a $1.5 billion class-action lawsuit for allegedly publishing fake profiles. And just last month, the FTC said it was looking at Jerk.com over alleged violations.

Make no mistake about it, the FTC has the power and authority to bring companies and individuals to their knees and now is the chance for those dating site operators that are engaging in unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce, to make substantial changes. -Corey Silverstein

Now rumors persist that governmental entitles may be taking a keen interest in the alleged business practices of adult dating sites as well.

“The FTC has undoubtedly taken a very strong interest in dating websites,” said adult industry attorney Corey Silverstein. “It has become apparent that the FTC for whatever reason is focusing its attention on chat bots, virtual profiles, fake profiles (or whatever you want to call them). While some would like to minimize the severity of the recent increase in the FTC’s activities related to dating sites, I believe that this is a very serious matter that all dating site operators need to be discussing with their attorneys immediately.”

Silverstein explained further that “it is unknown why the FTC has decided to become so aggressive, but I would speculate that an exponential number of consumer complaints are partially to blame. I believe that it is essential for dating sites to act responsibly and ensure that their consumers are clearly made aware of what services the dating site offers, including the extent of artificial intelligent driven profiles being used.

“Make no mistake about it, the FTC has the power and authority to bring companies and individuals to their knees and now is the chance for those dating site operators that are engaging in unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce, to make substantial changes.”

“The U.S. government for quite some time allowed dating site operators to regulate themselves but appears to be no longer tolerant of deceptive acts or practices, especially related to marketing.”

The bigger story here perhaps is the rationale that may drive an existing dating site or new dating site owner to experiment with traffic generating techniques that eventually run afoul of the law. There is a well-documented squeeze taking place that is making it increasingly difficult for dating sites to establish themselves, generate consistent traffic or monetize their incoming visitors effectively.

Lead generation on the organic level requires dating sites to openly compete with tubes and other adult entities for the same potential consumer clicks. That makes the exceptionally positive metrics of free porn for things like time on site, average pages viewed and bounce rate a very difficult obstacle for any dating site built on user engagement to overcome. Drawing someone in to a two-way community interaction and achieving results similar to other sites that generate metrics with a more passive one-way viewing experience is a motivator for just about any method of amping up the immediate sense of acceptance a new visitor feels.

Add to that the freemium business model many dating sites now rely on and the constant balancing act between how many features to include for free, or which aspects of a site should be held aside for premium members willing to pay a monthly fee.

The more a site decides to take premium behind a pay wall, the less engaging their tour can be for new visitors. The less a site holds back behind a pay wall, the harder it becomes to monetize freeloading visitors who enjoy the benefits of a dating community at the owner’s expense while doing without the few bells and whistles that they view as luxuries.

On top of those factors comes the avalanche of white label offerings in the dating market that have turned the intrigue of a dating site experience from a few years ago into a fully commoditized experience that most potential customers have already seen somewhere else.

Standing out from such a massive crowd of rebranded dating communities is nearly impossible to do if all you offer is a snazzy logo and some theme color changes as the elements intended to differentiate your site from the thousands of others in the dating niche that belong to someone else.

Webmasters mentioned many tools allegedly in use by sponsors and affiliates of dating sites across the full spectrum of niches from extreme adult to mainstream brands.

None were willing to speak on the record, but some of the alleged techniques were undeniably ingenious. Automated emails, winks and likes, chat bots that provide companionship instantly and a never-ending labyrinth of features that are all designed to give each user the personal impression that they are always just another few clicks away from finding the relationship they crave.

In some cases new visitors may in fact be duped into thinking they have an exciting new pen pal interested in meeting them soon, only because they are engaged unwittingly in an elaborate correspondence with a machine according to sources who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Of course it benefits the consumer and the dating site to eventually generate genuine results. The best way to get a member to recur is to have them find real dates with potential mates. That being said, neither the consumer nor Google, nor the dating site owners in many cases have the time and patience to wait for real love to find every single signup it seems.

Another interesting dichotomy of the dating landscape appears to be along the border between the gay and straight markets. One prominent affiliate who would only speak if able to remain anonymous said bluntly “Gay guys on sites like Grindr or DaddyHunt.com only see real profiles and meet real people because they would never go for any of the stuff that goes on in straight dating. Gay guys are looking to get their dick sucked by someone in close proximity right now. The real issue is that girls take more time to get their panties off than people buying dating memberships are willing to commit.”

If nothing else, it’s interesting about the legal action aimed at dating site owners for allegedly doing the sort of things that stem from trying to solve the historical difference in time frames between how long a women wants to wait before taking her panties off and how long most men are willing to wait for potential mates to make up their minds.

One potential solution that would benefit all involved is a simple decree of acceptance. Fans of the recent Spike Jonez film “Her” were treated to a glimpse of what some consider the future of companionship in more than just a Sci-Fi sense. Nothing prevents dating sites from openly stating in their terms that some interactions are mechanically generated, and what may surprise the site owners and FTC most of all are the number of people who would likely continue paying for memberships to sites that give them a feeling of real connectivity, even if those interactions were openly explained as being truly believable artificially intelligent virtual members.

In a lot of cases, a quiet night at home talking to your cellphone or tablet already ends up more gratifying than the date you go on with the boring person you took to dinner.

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