Ashley Madison — the dating site for married cheaters — is being sued by a woman who claims she hurt her wrists writing its bogus profiles. However, she never alleges the bogus profiles are illegal, as our Jim Edwards has noted.
So are bogus profiles on a dating website illegal? Business Insider spoke to Eric Goldman, director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara Law to get some insight into Ashley Madison’s bogus profiles. It turns out they may be in a legal grey area.
That’s because Ashley Madison actually discloses in its terms of agreement that some of its “Ashley’s Angel’s” profiles may be “fictitious.” Here’s what the terms say about “Ashley’s Angels:”
The purpose of our Ashley’s AngelsTM is to provide entertainment, to allow you to explore our Services and to promote greater participation in our Services. Ashley’s AngelsTM attempt to simulate communications with real members to encourage more conversation and interaction with users. We also use Ashley’s AngelsTM to monitor user communications and use of our Service to measure compliance with the Terms. Further, we may use Ashley’s AngelsTM in connection with our market research to enable us to analyse user preferences, trends, patterns and information about our customer base. Ashley’s AngelsTM are not intended to resemble or mimic any actual persons.
These user terms could enable Ashley Madison to successfully argue that it was being upfront about being just “a fantasy” and “a fiction,” Goldman told us. If users are just paying for the fantasy, then the site could argue they’re “getting exactly what they’re paying for,” Goldman said.
However, Ashley Madison may get into trouble if somebody can prove its marketing pitches let on that users are getting more than a fantasy. “You can’t disclose in the user agreement things that conflict with their basic marketing pitches,” Goldman said.
Dating sites have been sued in the past by users for allegedly promoting bogus profiles. Yahoo Personals and Match.com have both been sued by disgruntled users who claimed they kept inactive profiles on the sites to make it look like they had more subscribers than they actually did.
Ashley Madison — and other sites with fake profiles — may face enforcement actions from the Federal Trade Commission, which has been more aggressive lately about fake content online, according to Goldman.
“They [the FTC] hate the idea that there is fake information on the Internet,” Goldman said. “In my mind this is just another extension of inauthentic content online.”
For its part, Ashley Madison owner Avid Life Media said in a statement provided to Business Insider that its service is “100% authentic, as described in our terms and conditions.”
“We stand by our product so much that we offer a 100% guarantee if service does not meet every expectation,” the company said.