Online dating (or Internet dating) is a system that enables strangers to find and introduce themselves to new personal connections over the Internet, usually with the goal of developing personal, romantic, or sexual relationships. An online dating service is a company that provides specific mechanisms (generally websites or applications) for online dating through the use of Internet-connected personal computers or mobile devices. Such companies offer a wide variety of unmoderated matchmaking services, most of which are profile-based.
Online dating services allow users to become "members" by creating a profile and uploading personal information including (but not limited to) age, gender, sexual orientation, location, and appearance. Most services also encourage members to add photos or videos to their profile. Once a profile has been created, members can view the profiles of other members of the service, using the visible profile information to decide whether or not to initiate contact. Most services offer digital messaging, while others provide additional services such as webcasts, online chat, telephone chat (VOIP), and message boards. Members can constrain their interactions to the online space, or they can arrange a date to meet in person.
A great diversity of online dating services currently exists. Some have a broad membership base of diverse users looking for many different types of relationships. Other sites target highly specific demographics based on features like shared interests, location, religion, or relationship type. Online dating services also differ widely in their revenue streams. Some sites are completely free and depend on advertising for revenue. Others utilize the freemium revenue model, offering free registration and use, with optional, paid, premium services. Still others rely solely on paid membership subscriptions.
Opinions and usage of online dating services also differ widely. A 2005 study of data collected by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that individuals are more likely to use an online dating service if they use the Internet for a greater number of tasks, and less likely to use such a service if they are trusting of others. It is possible that the mode of online dating resonates with some participants' conceptual orientation towards the process of ﬁnding a romantic partner. That is, online dating sites use the conceptual framework of a "marketplace metaphor" to help people find potential matches, with layouts and functionalities that make it easy to quickly browse and select profiles in a manner similar to how one might browse an online store. Under this metaphor, members of a given service can both "shop" for potential relationship partners and "sell" themselves in hopes of finding a successful match.
At the end of November 2004, there were 844 lifestyle and dating sites, a 38% increase since the start of the year, according to Hitwise Inc. The stigma associated with online dating dropped over the years and people view online dating more positively. The 2006 Pew Internet & American Life Project on Online Dating noted an increase in usage of online dating sites by Americans to pursue their romantic interests. About one in ten respondents reported visiting these online dating websites. In 2005–2012, about 34.95% of Americans reported meeting their spouses online. Further, the 2016 Pew Research Center's survey reveals that the usage of online dating sites by American adults increased from 9% in 2013, to 12% in 2015. Further, during this period, the usage among 18- to 24-year-olds tripled, while that among 55- to 65-year-olds doubled.
Online daters may have more liberal social attitudes compared to the general population in the United States. According to a 2015 study by Pew Research Center, 80% of the users, and 55% of non-users, agreed that online dating sites are a good way to meet potential partners. In addition, respondents felt that online dating is easier, efficient than other methods, and gives access to a larger pool of potential partners. On the other hand, about 45% respondents felt that online dating is more dangerous as compared to other methods. The views on online dating were similar across genders, with women expressing more concerns about safety than men.
Sites with specific demographics have become popular as a way to narrow the pool of potential matches. Successful niche sites pair people by race, sexual orientation or religion. In March 2008, the top 5 overall sites held 7% less market share than they did one year ago while the top sites from the top five major niche dating categories made considerable gains. Niche sites cater to people with special interests, such as sports fans, racing and automotive fans, medical or other professionals, people with political or religious preferences (e.g., Hindu, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, etc.), people with medical conditions (e.g., HIV+, obese), or those living in rural farm communities.
In 2008, a variation of the online dating model emerged in the form of introduction sites, attracting a large number of users and significant investor interest. Introduction sites differ from the traditional online dating model, where members have to search and contact other members, by introducing members to other members whom they deem compatible.
Since 2003, several free dating sites, operating on ad based-revenue rather than monthly subscriptions, have appeared and become increasingly popular. Other partially free online dating services offer only limited privileges for free members, or only for a brief period. Although some sites offer free trials and/or profiles, most memberships can cost upwards of $60 per month.
In 2008, United States generated $957 million in revenue from online dating services
In Eastern Europe, popular sites offer full access to messaging and profiles, but provide additional services for pay, such as prioritizing profile position, removing advertisements, and giving paying users access to a more advanced search engine. Such sites earn revenue from a mix of advertising and sale of additional options. This model also allows users to switch between free and paying status at will, with sites accepting a variety of online currencies and payment options.
Most free dating websites depend on advertising revenue, using tools such as Google AdSense, affiliate marketing. Since advertising revenues are modest compared to membership fees, free dating sites require a large number of page views to achieve profitability. However, Sam Yagan describes dating sites as ideal advertising platforms because of the wealth of demographic data made available by users.
There are mixed opinions regarding the safety of online dating. Over 50% of research participants in a 2011 study did not view online dating as a dangerous activity, whereas 43% thought that online dating involved risk. Because online dating takes place in virtual space, it is possible for profile information to be misrepresented or falsified. While some sites conduct background checks on members, many do not, resulting in some uncertainty around members' identities. For instance, some profiles may not represent real humans but rather "bait profiles" placed online by site owners to attract new paying members, or "spam profiles" created by advertisers to market services and products.
Profiles created by real humans also have the potential to be problematic. For example, online dating sites may expose more female members in particular to stalking, fraud, and sexual violence by online predators. A less malicious form of misrepresentation is that members may lie about their height, weight, age, or marital status in an attempt to market or brand themselves in a particular way. Careful manipulation and scrutiny over profiles may be a result of intentional Impression management by users. That is, online dating site members may try to balance an accurate representation with maintaining their image in a desirable way. One study found that nine out of ten participants had lied on at least one attribute, though lies were often slight; weight was the most lied about attribute, and age was the least lied about. Furthermore, knowing a large amount of superficial information about a potential partner's interests may lead to a false sense of security when meeting up with a new person. Gross misrepresentation may be less likely on matrimonials sites than on casual dating sites. Some dating services have been created specifically for those living with HIV and other STI in an effort to eliminate the need to lie about one's health in order to find a partner.
Media coverage of crimes related to online dating may also contribute to perceived risks of online dating. However, online dating may also have advantages over conventional offline dating in that it offers unprecedented access to potential partners for singles who otherwise would not have such access.
The emergence of dating sites that promote adultery, such as AshleyMadison.com, stirred some controversy. Marriage breakups happened in about 6% of online couples, compared to 7.6% of offline ones. Mean marital satisfaction scores were 5.64 and 5.48 for the online and offline couples, respectively.
Online subscription-based services can suffer from complaints about billing practices. Some online dating service providers may have fraudulent membership fees or credit card charges. Some sites do not allow members to preview available profiles before paying a subscription fee. Furthermore, different functionalities may be offered to members who have paid or not paid for subscriptions, resulting in some confusion around who can view or contact whom.
Consolidation within the online dating industry has led to different newspapers and magazines now advertising the same website data base under different names. In the UK, for example, Time Out ("London Dating"), The Times ("Encounters"), and The Daily Telegraph ("Kindred Spirits"), all offer differently named portals to the same service—meaning that a person who subscribes through more than one publication has unwittingly paid more than once for access to just one site.
Imbalanced Gender Ratios
On any given dating site, the sex ratio is commonly unbalanced. A website may have two women for every man, but they may be in the 35+ range, while the men are generally under 35. Little is known about the sex ratio controlled for age. eHarmony.coms membership is about 57% female and 43% male, whereas the ratio at Match.com is about the reverse of that. When one gets into the specialty niche websites where the primary demographic is male, one typically gets a very unbalanced ratio of male to female or female to male.
Studies have suggested that men are far more likely to send messages on dating sites than are women. In addition, men tend to message the most attractive women regardless of their own attractiveness. This leads to the most attractive women on these sites receiving an overwhelming number of messages, which can result in them leaving the site.
There is some evidence that there may be a difference on how women online rate male attractiveness as opposed to how men rate female attractiveness. The distribution of ratings given by men of female attractiveness appears to look like a standard bell curve (normal distribution), while ratings of men given by women is highly skewed with 80% of the men rated as below average. This shows women are genuinely more picky than men when it comes to online dating. It could also potentially arise from women assessing other profile characteristics besides appearance, like their occupation.
Gay rights groups have complained that certain websites that restrict their dating services to heterosexual couples are discriminating against homosexuals. Homosexual customers of the popular eHarmony.com dating website have made many attempts to litigate discriminatory practices. eHarmony.com was sued in 2007 by a lesbian claiming that, "Such outright discrimination is hurtful and disappointing for a business open to the public in this day and age". In light of discrimination by sexual orientation by dating websites, some services such as GayDar.net and Chemistry.com cater more to homosexual dating.
In addition, many sites require members to specify what sex they are looking for without having the option "both", which complicates things for bisexuals. Many sites also require members to specify themselves as "male" or "female", complicating matters for transgender people as well as some persons with intersex conditions.
Less than half of Internet daters are open to dating people of all races. Consistent with social exchange and group position theories, Asians, Latinos and blacks are more open to dating whites than whites are to dating them. Of those who state a racial preference, 97% of white men exclude black women, 48% exclude Latinas, and 53% exclude Asian women. In contrast, white men are excluded by 76% of black women, 33% Latinas, and only 11% Asian women. Similarly, 92% of white women exclude black men, 77% exclude Latinos, and 93% exclude Asian men. 71% of black men, 31% of Latinos, and 36% of Asian men excluded white women.
A 2011 class action lawsuit alleged Match.com failed to remove inactive profiles, did not accurately disclose the number of active members, and does not police its site for fake profiles; the inclusion of expired and spam profiles as valid served to both artificially inflate the total number of profiles and camouflage a skewed gender ratio in which active users were disproportionately single males. The suit claimed up to 60 percent were inactive profiles, fake or fraudulent users. Some of the spam profiles were alleged to be using images of porn actresses, models, or people from other dating sites. Former employees alleged Match routinely and intentionally over-represented the number of active members on the website and a huge percentage were not real members but 'filler profiles'.
A 2012 class action against SuccessfulMatch.com ended with a November 2014 California jury award of $1.4 million in compensatory damages and $15 million in punitive damages. SuccessfulMatch.com operated a dating site for people with STDs, PositiveSingles.com, which it advertised as offering a "fully anonymous profile" which is "100% confidential". The company failed to disclose that it was placing those same profiles on a long list of affiliate site domains such as GayPozDating.com, AIDSDate.com, HerpesInMouth.com, ChristianSafeHaven.com, MeetBlackPOZ.com, HIVGayMen.com, STDHookup.com, BlackPoz.com and PositivelyKinky.com. This falsely inferred the same users as black, Christian, gay, HIV-positive or members of other groups with which the registered members did not identify. The jury found PositiveSingles.com guilty of fraud, malice, and oppression as the plaintiffs' race, sexual orientation, HIV status, and religion were misrepresented by exporting each dating profile to niche sites associated with each trait.
In 2013, a former employee sued adultery website AshleyMadison.com claiming repetitive strain injuries as creating 1000 fake profiles in one three week span "required an enormous amount of keyboarding" which caused the worker to develop severe pain in her wrists and forearms. AshleyMadison.com parent company, Avid Life Media countersued in 2014, alleging the worker kept confidential documents, including copies of her "work product and training materials." The firm claimed the fake profiles were for "quality assurance testing" to test a new Brazilian version of the site for "consistency and reliability."
In January 2014, an already-married Facebook user attempting to close a pop-up advertisement for Zoosk.com found that one click instead copied personal info from her Facebook profile to create an unwanted online profile seeking a mate, leading to a flood of unexpected responses from amorous single males.
In 2014, It's Just Lunch International was the target of a New York class action alleging unjust enrichment as IJL staff relied on a uniform, misleading script which informed prospective customers during initial interviews that IJL already had at least two matches in mind for those customers' first dates regardless of whether or not that was true.
In 2014, the US Federal Trade Commission fined UK-based JDI Dating (a group of 18 websites, including Cupidswand.com and FlirtCrowd.com) over $600000, finding that "the defendants offered a free plan that allowed users to set up a profile with personal information and photos. As soon as a new user set up a free profile, he or she began to receive messages that appeared to be from other members living nearby, expressing romantic interest or a desire to meet. However, users were unable to respond to these messages without upgrading to a paid membership. Membership plans cost from $10 to $30 per month, with subscriptions generally ranging from one to 12 months. The messages were almost always from fake, computer-generated profiles — 'Virtual Cupids' — created by the defendants, with photos and information designed to closely mimic the profiles of real people." The FTC also found that paid memberships were being renewed without client authorisation.
U.S. government regulation of dating services began with the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act (IMBRA) which took effect in March 2007 after a federal judge in Georgia upheld a challenge from the dating site European Connections. The law requires dating services meeting specific criteria—including having as their primary business to connect U.S. citizens/residents with foreign nationals—to conduct, among other procedures, sex offender checks on U.S. customers before contact details can be provided to the non-U.S. citizen.In 2008, the state of New Jersey passed a law which requires the sites to disclose whether they perform background checks.
In the People's Republic of China, transnational matchmaking is illegal. The Philippines prohibits the business of organizing or facilitating marriages between Filipinas and foreign men under the Republic Act 6955 (the Anti-Mail-Order Bride Law) of June 13, 1990; this law is routinely circumvented by basing mail-order bride websites outside the country.
Singapore's Social Development Network is the governmental organization facilitating dating activities in the country. Singapore's government has actively acted as a matchmaker for singles for the past few decades, and thus only 4% of Singaporeans have ever used an online dating service, despite the country's high rate of internet penetration.
In December 2010, a New York State Law called the "Internet Dating Safety Act" (S5180-A) went into effect that requires online dating sites with customers in New York State to warn users not to disclose personal information to people they do not know.
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