A dating website provider that made members’ profiles visible on websites containing explicit adult material has got away with a slap on the wrist today, after a Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) investigation that found “critical privacy breaches”.
Venntro Media Group has over 55 million users across 3,500 websites worldwide. The CMA, which began its investigation in October 2017, found that users’ data was been held in a central database that made it possible for profiles to be visible on sites they had not signed up too.
Senior Director George Lusty at CMA commented while revealing the findings: “We took action against Venntro because we were concerned people’s profiles were being placed on sites without their knowledge or permission.”
The CMA does not have the power to levy fines under the Consumer Rights Act.
The CMA said in a report today: “Venntro has made legally binding commitments to make it clear to people before they sign up that it will share their information on other sites and obtain their full agreement to do this.”
It added: “It must provide a list of these sites and will not place members’ profiles on sites containing explicit adult material without their additional active consent.”
Complaints were made to CMA by users who claimed they signed up to websites which contained adult content without realising or being informed.
The company specialises in niche dating websites, ranging from those interested in specific hobbies or religions, to “silver singles” for the elderly or more adult websites like “BBWshagbook”.
In their investigation CMA also found that: “Some of the profiles they saw and people they paid to interact with, were not actually subscribers to that site and did not necessarily share their interests.”
Venntro said they had been “collaborated closely with the CMA throughout the process. During that time, the CMA had full access to our business, systems, data and staff…we believe the conclusion of this process demonstrates the integrity of our business and our desire to ensure informed transparency for all the UK consumers who use dating sites.”
George Lusty of CMA pointed out that: “As a result of our investigation, Venntro has now pledged to be more upfront with its customers in future.”
Venntro also trades under the name Global Personals which in 2012 was the subject of a Channel 4 investigation that revealed employees would copy photos from Facebook profiles and create fake accounts. While it is free to sign up to Global Personals dating sites, to reply to messages you have received a subscription costing £20 per month is required.
Together with the UK’s privacy regulator, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), the CMA has published advice for online dating businesses to explain how to fully comply with both consumer and data protection laws. It has also published advice about what people should watch out for when using online dating services.