California Case Law - The FindLaw California Supreme Court and Courts of Appeal Opinion Summaries Blog

$16M Verdict Against STD Positive Dating Site

They say that there is someone for everyone. If that is the case, some of the more mainstream sites may not cater to one's peculiarities. For example, there is FarmersOnly.com, a site whose tagline ("City folks just don't get it.") says it all.

SuccessfulMatch.com has its own network of niche dating sites, including Deafs.com, SeniorMatch.com, BikerKiss.com, EquestrianCupid.com, and the mother of all sites: PositiveMatch.com. That last one is for folks with incurable sexually transmitted diseases, such as herpes, HIV/AIDS, and HPV.

When users sign up for the site, assurances of anonymity are provided. However, in the site's terms, it says that it can share profiles and user data within the company's network, which includes a number of "affiliate" sites, each of which are created by third-parties for new niches.

That seems to be how the plaintiff's user profile ended upon subsidiary sites catering to kink, Christians, black people, gay people, and HIV-positive people. And it also seems to be why a California jury just smacked SuccessfulMatch.com with a $16 million verdict, reports BBC News.

Totally Confidential (Until You Click The Terms)

According to the lawsuit, PositiveSingles advertised itself as a "100 percent confidential and comfortable community" and stated: "We do not disclose, sell or rent any personally identifiable information to any third-party organizations."

However, as the plaintiff acknowledged, the site's terms allowed the company to share data with other sites in the SuccessfulMatch network.

A Canadian government website says that's exactly what the site formerly did: share individuals profiles across numerous "affiliate" sites, which were basically re-badged versions of the mother network's site.

Users would see this:

100% Anonymous, Private, Safe & Comfortable
...
The best, largest, completely anonymous and most trusted online dating site for people with Herpes, HPV, HIV / AIDS, Hepatitis, Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Syphilis and other STD in the world.
...
We care about your privacy more than other sites, so you are not required to submit any information you are not comfortable with. All your personal information can be private and anonymous until you want to take things further. Everyone with an STD can join us regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or gender. Never feel lonely again!

But the sites' terms included this, along with many other open-ended provisions:

3. PROFILE SHARING AND DISTRIBUTION

To expand the availability of profiles on SuccessfulMatch sites, profiles may be shared with other sites within the SuccessfulMatch Network. By posting or maintaining a profile on this or any other SuccessfulMatch Network site, you agree and consent that said profile shall be subject to placement on other SuccessfulMatch Network sites, at the discretion of SuccessfulMatch, without further notice.

Will the Verdict Hold Up?

That's a heck of a question. The jury obviously had both pieces of evidence in front of them (the broad guarantees on the face of the site, as well as the broad terms of service) and sided with the plaintiff. But it remains to be seen how far California appellate courts are willing to go on allowing consumers to plead ignorance to increasingly complicated site terms that nobody actually reads. Plus, there's the matter of the assurances made in bold on the home page.

But with $16 million at stake, an appeal is certain.

Related Resources: