The dating site PositiveSingles boasts that it offers a safe, confidential place for adults living with sexually transmitted infections (STIs) to connect with others in similar situations for support, and possibly romance. A recent jury verdict in California, however, suggests the site is anything but confidential.
In fact, the jury’s verdict found the site’s parent company committed fraud and violated consumer law, and will have to pay $16.5 million in damages.
PositiveSingles is one site owned by the company Successful Match, which began running dating sites in 2001 and has since launched or partnered with many niche sites such as RichDateBusty, EquestrianCupid, NudistFriends, AIDSDate, GothicMatch, NudistFriends, and HerpesInMouth.
When people sign up for PositiveSingles, they create a profile that includes standard dating site fare as well as which STI they are living with. In addition to incurable infections such as herpes and HIV, the site offers as options in its drop-down menu curable STIs including chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis.
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Those who register also agree to the sites “terms of service.” According to the lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of an anonymous plaintiff in 2011, the terms of service said the site “does not disclose, sell or rent any personally identifiable information to any third-party organizations.”
The agreement also said that PositiveSingles could share users’ information with other Successful Match sites, but the plaintiff said it didn’t adequately explain how widely it would be shared or what the company would do with the information.
The parent company, according to the lawsuit, used the plaintiff’s information to create profiles on numerous other sites and these profiles misrepresented him. His lawyer explained, “[The p]laintiff is…not black, gay, Christian or HIV positive and was unaware that [the] defendant was creating websites that focused on such traits that would include his profile, thus indicating that he was all of these things and more.”
The sites that were given the plaintiff’s information were not subject to the terms of service that promised not to sell it to third parties. A statement from his attorneys noted, “While the website promised privacy, confidentiality, and that it would not share information with third parties, it turned out that PositiveSingles was simply one of over a thousand different websites, funneling member profiles and personal information into a single database that in fact shared that information with third parties.”
The jury agreed that the website had misled its members and ordered Successful Match to pay $1.5 million in economic damages and another $15 million in punitive damages. The plaintiff’s attorneys told Vice News that they also expect the judge in the case to issue an injunction against the site, barring the illegal practices and calling three of the provisions in the site’s terms of service “unconscionable.”
This is not the first lawsuit brought against PositiveSingles for failure to live up to its promise of a “100% confidential and comfortable community.”
A 2013 lawsuit brought by two anonymous women claimed the site “preyed on the vulnerability of people who have tested positive for HIV and sexually transmitted disease” and violated their privacy by sharing their disease status with other sites. That suit was dismissed in April because the filings never noted that the women had read the terms of service nor did it explain whether the women had paid for their memberships.
The women in that case plan to file an amended suit, according to the BBC.