eHarmony Settles Auto-Renewal Cases for $2 Million
eHarmony, the online dating company, will pay more than $2 million to settle a consumer protection lawsuit brought by the city of Santa Monica and four California counties.
The company offers subscriptions starting at $19.95 per month.
The complaint charged that eHarmony failed to properly advise users of an auto-renewal subscription fee.
California's Automatic Renewal Law (ARL), Business and Professions Code § 17600 et seq., states that
It is the intent of the Legislature to end the practice of ongoing charging of consumer credit or debit cards or third party payment accounts without the consumers explicit consent for ongoing shipments of a product or ongoing deliveries of service.
According to the complaint, eHarmony
did not clearly and conspicuously explain the automatically charged subscription fee, did not provide the consumer with their dating contract, or explain their right to cancel as required by law.
It is illegal in California to do any of the following:
- Fail to present the automatic renewal offer terms or continuous service offer terms in a clear and conspicuous manner before the subscription or purchasing agreement is fulfilled and in visual proximity, or in the case of an offer conveyed by voice, in temporal proximity, to the request for consent to the offer.
- Charge the consumer’s credit or debit card, or the consumer’s account with a third party, for an automatic renewal or continuous service without first obtaining the consumer’s affirmative consent to the agreement containing the automatic renewal offer terms or continuous service offer terms.
- Fail to provide an acknowledgment that includes the automatic renewal or continuous service offer terms, cancellation policy, and information regarding how to cancel in a manner that is capable of being retained by the consumer. If the offer includes a free trial, the business shall also disclose in the acknowledgment how to cancel, and allow the consumer to cancel, before the consumer pays for the goods or services.
The complaint also alleged that eHarmony broke consumer protection laws by failing to give users a copy of their contract that made clear when they could cancel without penalties.
As the San Jose Mercury News reported, eHarmony will pay $1.28 million to the communities and an additional $1 million in restitution to the affected consumers.
California users of the site who enrolled in the automatic subscription fee program between March 10 of 2012 and December 13 of 2016 are eligible to receive compensation. Each eligible consumer will be contacted about the settlement and is expected to receive about $30.
Settlement Order Terms
Under the settlement order, eHarmony must make several changes to how it treats consumers, including:
- disclosing the automatic renewal more clearly before the consumer signs up
- only charging for an automatic renewal if the consumer has consented to the terms via a check-box or signature
- confirming the auto-renewal with an email
- providing a toll-free number or email address to allow for easy cancellation