The formation of the Online Dating Association (ODA) was agreed upon in principle by 13 of the industry’s leading brands, including eHarmony, Guardian Soulmates, Match.com and My Single Friend, earlier this year following a series of recent critical TV exposés alleging malpractice from certain parties in the sector.
The ODA, headed up by ex-Cabinet Office director and PhonePayPlus chief executive George Kidd as CEO, intends to offer guidance on how its constituents compose their terms of service regarding four matters its members have identified as critical to building trust in the sector.
These include: Fair and honest dealership; delivering on what they promise, data protection, and safeguarding their users.
Also included in the scheme will be the development of a common logo – which will effectively act as a gold standard – that each member can feature on their individual sites, as a further method of engendering trust.
Currently, the ODA is devising what modus operandi it will employ, such as when and how it will adjudicate on complaints, and funding.
“We are working on how we’ll deal with issues such as customer complaints, then work out how we’ll triage from there,” says Kidd.
Although he insists the ODA has not been set up as an ombudsman to deal with individual consumer grievances.
“If it’s a compliance issue, it will have to be substantive [before the ODA will step in]. However, if it’s a complaint from a customer saying that a profile photo on a person’s site is much younger than they actually are, then that’s between them and the individual company,” adds Kiss.
“We’re here to look at the bigger picture, and ask if cases [brought towards them] are either a one-off, or part of a wider trend?”
At present the ODA is finalising details on how it will further fund its operations – a contribution from each of the founding members is likely in the initial phase – as well as liaising with Government bodies such as the Information Commissioner’s Office.
All this work is being conducted ahead of a formal launch date of the body – expected within the coming months.
Kidd says: “This pyramid [of self regulation] starts with standards and codes of conduct. If the industry waits until something has gone wrong then it will have to take what it is given [in terms of external interference], the ODA aims to be about education.”
The full list of inaugural ODA members includes: eHarmony, The Dating Lab, Oasis, match, My Single Friend, Guardian Soulmates, Love and Friends, Dating Factory, Christian Connection, Muddy Matches, Lovestruck, Freedating and The Single Solution.
The UK’s online dating sector is valued at £170m a year.