Online dating sites review

Our investigation shows paid and free online dating sites including RSVP, eHarmony and Oasis Active may use members' private information and photos in advertising.
 
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01 .The findings

Online-dating

Our investigation into popular online dating sites has found that scams are rife, and some privacy policies and terms and conditions are riddled with disturbing provisions.

We've checked out the offerings of some of the market leaders, and found out how they work, how much they cost, and what their privacy policies are.

In this article you'll find information about:

We also share some examples of good and bad online dating experiences.

For more general information related to the Internet, see Software and online services.

Scam warning

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has been investigating online scammers who use dating sites and romance services as a feeding ground. In 2013 alone, Australians lost $25.3 million to the shysters.

The ACCC reports that they've received 2770 complaints, with more than 400 people saying they'd lost in excess of $10,000. In fact, 64 people reported losing more than $100,000. And shockingly, 43% of people who came into contact with dating and romance scams lost money – one of the highest conversion rates of scams reported to the ACCC.

Popular scams include convincing users to part with their personal details or money, which is often sent overseas and is unrecoverable. 

“Scammers go to great lengths to gain your trust, spending months and even years building a relationship with you. Once your defences are lowered, they spin an elaborate tale about how they need your financial help with a crisis, such as being ill or stranded and ask for money,” says ACCC Deputy Chair, Delia Rickard. 

“These scams can also pose a risk to your personal safety, as scammers are often part of international criminal networks. Scammers have lured unwitting Australian victims overseas, putting people in dangerous situations that can have tragic consequences.”

CHOICE member uncovers a scam

One CHOICE member believes she stumbled on such a scam when using RSVP. “I was married for 33 years when my husband died,” says Alice (not her real name). “A friend suggested going on to dating sites to meet someone. My instinct told me to be careful, so I set up a fake email address.

“The very first person who contacted me was a scammer. I complained to the site about him, and six weeks later they told me they had removed all of his profiles from their site. So I moved to eHarmony, and guess who I found there?”

Dating website reviews

CH0212_OnlineDating_rsvplogo

Australian members: Two million – the most popular online dating site, according to recent figures.

Who’s on it: Roughly 50/50 female and male; 48% of members are aged between 26 and 40, while 34% are between 41 and 60.

Cost: It’s free to become a member, view profiles and see the last four people who viewed your profile, and to send and accept virtual kisses, which are expressions of interest. 

Users need to buy stamps to email others, which expire within one to 12 months and cost between $4.59 and $11.69 each, depending on quantity bought and expiry period. 

A stamp allows unlimited free contact for 30 days between two members. RSVP also has two premium membership services, RSViP Priority (from $6.65 to $14.90 per month, depending on length of membership) and RSViP Private (from $8.32 to $24.90 per month). Both allow members to access compatibility scores and reports, see all members who viewed their profile in the past 21 days and have non-expiring stamps and more emailing options. Priority members are also highlighted and appear at the top of search results, while private members have the option to keep hidden until they choose to allow others to view their profile.

Approach: Free users enter the gender, age range and location of those they’re looking for and can view the results immediately, but don’t get any hints as to whether they are compatible. Paying members get access to compatibility data, and so may have a better shot at a good match.

Privacy: Signing up to an RSVP account and agreeing to its privacy terms and conditions in effect grants permission for your personal information, including photos and email addresses, to be used for “any purpose”, which may include advertising or transmission to a third party. While all sites we looked at track your activities using cookies, RSVP even shows other users how often you’re on the site and who you’re looking at. 

Experiences: “I met my current partner there,” says Mary*. “We’ve been together about four-and-a-half years, have a two-year-old daughter and are getting married next year.”

* Not her real name.

eHarmony-logo

Australian members: More than a million, according to an eHarmony spokesperson. 

Who’s on it: About 51% males and 49% females; most members are aged in their 20s and 30s, but there are also a large number of older users.

Cost: There are three levels of membership. Users can create a free account to receive a personal profile, view daily matches and have limited interaction with their matches, such as sending a smile or a limited number of set questions. Basic aying members are charged from $19.95 a month for a 12-month membership to $59.95 month for a one-month membership. They can request and view photos of matches, see who has viewed their profile and when their matches last logged in, and communicate with confirmed matches. 

Total Connect members pay from $23.95 a month for 12 months to $39.95 per month for three months. They get all basic plan features plus are able to phone their matches without revealing their phone number via a service called Secure Call. They also get a deeper personality analysis. 

Approach: eHarmony’s selling point is its tailored approach to finding love online. New users fill out a detailed questionnaire in which they rate their own appearance and personality as well as nominate important features in a relationship and partner. The answers form their personality profile, which is then used to find matches using the so-called “29 dimensions of compatibility”. 

Privacy: By posting information and photos on a profile page or any public area of the eHarmony website, users automatically agree to have that information perpetually owned and used by eHarmony for such purposes as advertising. Users’ contact details may be shared with third parties for advertising, but opting out is possible by changing certain settings or notifying eHarmony of your request in writing.

Experiences: Jane* says: “eHarmony doesn’t [let you join] if you’re separated but not divorced and doesn’t seem to make it so easy to chat. And no-one seems to have a current photo of themselves!”

* Not her real name.

 
 

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Oasis-Active-logo

Australian members: About 1.6 million. 

Cost: Free

Who’s on it: Roughly 60% of members are male and 40% female; 64% are aged between 18 and 35, while 27% are between 36 and 50.

Approach: Signed-up users describe their personality, interests and hobbies and select criteria for their ideal partner. They can then search for suitable matches. A spokesperson says all profiles and pictures are manually checked to ensure information provided is accurate. 

Privacy: By signing up, users agree that all profile information including photos is public and so automatically grant an irrevocable and ongoing licence for the company to use and distribute any information posted or transmitted on the site. In effect, this means users photos, aliases and other personal details can be used in advertising, online and off, although it’s possible to opt out of this by updating privacy options in the account settings portal on the website. Email addresses, photos and information may also be shared with third parties for marketing purposes on behalf of Oasis Active. 

Experiences: “The matching criteria isn’t very specific – it only has [the distance between you in kilometres], the language spoken, the status (relationship, casual dating, friendship) and age range,” says Lana*. “I’d like it to also include some more or all of the information keyed into the details section. One big advantage is that it’s a free site and so there are lots of people there.”

*Not her real name. 


OkCupid-logo

Australian members: Figures not available. 

Cost: There are two levels of membership. Free users can look at profiles and photos and contact other members. For $9.95 per month, A-list members can access the site ad-free, change their user name, get additional match and photo album options, and have more space and options in their messaging inbox as well as better anonymity settings. 

Approach: OkCupid claims to use a maths-based matching system to help users find partners. After completing a basic profile, users can elect to fill out hundreds of optional broad-reaching questions such as if they’d date a messy person, whether they like dogs, or even how often they brush their teeth. Potential matches are then rated based on a percentage for being a match, a friend or an enemy. Users can then flick through quick matches or browse all potential matches based on search criteria including gender, age and distance. 

Privacy: OkCupid may use contact information for advertising purposes and compiling its OkTrends blog, which tracks and charts user behaviour. They may also share this information with third parties. OkCupid allows information posted on its site to appear in search engine results. 

Experiences: “I think the criteria and matching side of things on OkCupid were pretty good, although it still didn’t predict the ‘spark’ when two people meet,” says Catherine, who met her husband on OkCupid. “Several guys I went on dates with had high scores (80%+), and although we had similar interests we didn’t connect at all in terms of conversation. Or, we did connect but they were only interested in sex.”

Safety is a concern when it comes to meeting people over the internet and reputable sites have privacy policies that detail their own practices. 

You should read each site’s policy carefully before you join. Most of the major sites also ensure you don’t breach your own privacy by posting identifying details on your online profile. 

Sites often won’t post profiles that contain, among other things:

  • Personal information (full name, email, telephone, web address)
  • Mention of illegal activities, violence or non-consensual acts; discriminatory (racist, sexist, homophobic, ageist) text
  • Solicitation or any commercial activity
  • Requests for a relationship inappropriate to the area

This means profiles generally contain information about age, hobbies, likes and dislikes, the general area a person lives and a photo.

Correspondence is mostly via site emails that can’t be traced back to the real world. Some sites, such as Lavalife, also point out that if at any time you don’t feel comfortable with someone you’re interacting with you can stop and, if necessary, block them.

However, less scrupulous sites don’t always go to such an effort and you could find yourself on a swingers site when you’re really looking for a relationship.

Generally, it’s not hard to decipher the language — anybody looking for ‘couples’ is probably not looking to settle down but it’s worth being wary when you look at the latest offerings. Internet dating is also starting to offer niche sites. Some are run according to sexual preference (such as Gaydar.com.au); others offer greater levels of personality profiling and compatibility matching (such as US-based eharmony.com); and some are aimed at religious or ethnic groups.

The same safety and monetary rules apply, regardless of the size or orientation of the site. Like any other way of meeting people, internet dating doesn’t come with guarantees. If you’d like to try dating people this way, make sure you stay in the driver's seat: don’t put up any personal information that could identify you, talk a lot online before you meet in person and block any communications that make you uncomfortable.

Tips for safe and successful online dating

  • Create a separate email address for online dating.
  • Never include personal information such as your real name, workplace, regular email address, work or home address, phone number or birthday, in your profile.
  • Profiles with photos receive more responses.
  • Tell the truth in your profile — you and your dates will only be disappointed if you’ve lied.
  • Be original and try to make your profile stand out from the rest.
  • Don’t rush in — spend time getting to know somebody online and ask plenty of questions before you meet them face to face.
  • When you meet somebody for the first time, pick a public place, tell a friend where you’re going and keep the first meeting brief and inexpensive, such as grabbing a cup of coffee.
  • Don’t let somebody new pick you up or drop you at home.
  • If you decide to have further contact with somebody, use a mobile phone number, not a home number.


The good

Belinda, 31, a jazz singer and David, 32, a police officer had used several online dating sites when they met on RSVP. Two years later, they’re married and expecting their first child.

"I felt online dating was the safest way to date because I was in control,” says Belinda. “Even when I met a couple of scary guys, it was in a neutral place and they just had my mobile number. I had dates with doctors, lawyers, a millionaire, but I had no feelings for them apart from friendship. I knew the moment I saw David — ‘this is the one’. I’d never had that before.”

David agrees: “I chose online dating for the variety of people I could meet. I was looking for a partner and I looked for that in other people’s profiles.”

  • Sites used: RSVP, ninemsn, Lavalife, Kiss
  • Length dating online: Belinda — 18 months, David — six months
  • Success: they married
  • Dated: Belinda — ‘100s’, David — ‘a few girls’

Verdict: “We’ve introduced many friends to RSVP.”

The bad

Roxanne*, 40, a production manager, began dating online as a way of meeting a wider variety of people, rather than just those working in her industry. She has now given up online dating and says that some people became addicted.

“It’s a bit too easy, so if they’re going out with someone and it’s not particularly working they can just go back online and start looking again. If you’re permanently on the site you can get out of the practice of flirting with people just normally.”

  • Sites used: RSVP
  • Length dating online: four months
  • Success: two brief relationships
  • Stopped: wasn’t meeting people interested in working on relationships
  • Dated: a few

Verdict: “I wouldn’t dissuade people from it but I wouldn’t recommend it either. It can be the lazy person's way to date.”

* Not her real name

The neutral

Michael**, 31, a customer service manager, began dating online as a way of meeting people when he moved to a new city.

“Having too much emotional investment and hope can be rather futile,” he says. “I also found men have to be proactive and send the kisses and the emails — I was on a site for a year before I received a response from a woman that wasn’t solicited by me.”

  • Sites used: RSVP and Lavalife
  • Length dating online: two years
  • Success: made a good friend and had one relationship
  • Stopped: met girlfriend at work
  • Dated: about 12 women

Verdict: “Online dating is worth a try but it depends on your personality and whether you’re willing to put in an effort.”

** Not his real name

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