eHarmony's Been Banned From Saying its Matching Process is Scientific

By Tom Pritchard on at

There are a lot of dating websites out there, may of which have their own gimmick that tries to get you to subscribe with them rather than a competitor. One of eHarmony's marketing tactics was to claim that its matching process was more than algorithms and pure chance, it was using science to help match you up with a would-be partner. Except Advertising Standards have determined that this wasn't the case, and has banned the site from making that claim.

Specifically the ASA upheld complaints about an advert on the London Underground, which claimed eHarmony used a "scientifically proven matching system" to pair people off. The ASA called the advert, which said "it's time science had a go at love", was misleading.

The initial complaint was filed by Lord Lipsey, joint chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Statistics and a former ASA council member. He says that the phrase "scientifically proven" should be used in cases that are "just that", not "crude puffery designed to lure in those longing for love". He then referred to the advert as "a new form of fake news which the ASA has rightly slapped down," because we know using the term 'fake news' means he's super serious and not using a buzzword to try and avoid using boring words like lie.

eHarmony respectfully disagrees with the ASA's decision, but doesn't plan on doing anything about it. Probably because it couldn't actually provide any evidence that its customers had a better chance of finding love, even though it claims to match people using "sophisticated matching standards designed by PhD psychologists".

Like most web services that are around these days, eHarmony uses data-driven algorithms to match people together - having them fill out questionnaires to work out personality traits, personal values, and things they're interested in. The specifics of the algorithm is a closely-guarded secret, but it did use data from 50,000 married couples in 23 different countries to produce its statistical models.

Despite the claims that the system is "scientifically proven", the company maintains that people are able to understand that it means the scientific model would work for them, not that it would guarantee they'd find love. The ASA disagrees, however, ruling that people would interpret the claims to mean that they would have a better chance of matching up with someone.

So the ad is gone, but it's unclear what consequences there are for eHarmony having made the claims in the first place. Banning adverts is all well and good, but if there aren't any consequences, what's to stop them doing it again? [ASA via BBC News]

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