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Santa Monica Announce Settlement with eHarmony Website
By Lookout Staff
January 10, 2018 -- (Updated) The dating website giant eHarmony has agreed to pay $1.2 million in penalties and up to $1 million in restitution in a settlement with Santa Monica City prosecutors and others over its automatic renewal practices, the City Attorney’s Office said Tuesday.
The settlement with the company formerly based in Santa Monica is part of a final court judgment negotiated with a task force of City prosecutors and those from the district attorney offices of the counties of Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Napa and Shasta, said Adam Radinsky, chief deputy city attorney.
The restitution money will go to customers whose subscriptions were automatically renewed by eHarmony and who were denied refunds when requested.
The task force said eHarmony was charging customers for renewals of members without getting express prior consent, which is required by law, Radinsky said.
eHarmony was alleged to have “engaged in false advertising,” and violated California dating-service laws “by failing to provide copies of contracts to consumers and to disclose their right to cancel,” he said.
“Automatic renewal is one of the critical areas in consumer protection today,” Radinsky, head of the City Attorney’s Consumer Protection Division, said.
“Consumers always have the right to know where their money is going.”
The judgment also requires eHarmony to “clearly and conspicuously disclose the renewal terms” and obtain consumers consent, through a separate check-box (or similar mechanism) that does not include other terms and conditions, Radinsky said.
It must also send a clear summary of the renewal terms after consumers pay and provide easy cancellation by consumers, Radinsky said.
“This joint effort is an important victory to ensure that consumers will not be subject to recurring charges imposed without their clear approval and consent,” said City Attorney Lane Dilg.
The judgment was filed Monday in Santa Cruz County Superior Court.
Ronald N. Sarian, eHarmony's vice president and general counsel, said the company has "endeavored to give appropriate contract notices and disclosures to our subscribers.
"Without any admission, we have cooperated with the government, which has previously launched similar investigations against a long list of eCommerce companies, and have chosen to settle to avoid the distraction and expense of protracted litigation," he said in a statement.
"In collaboration with the government, eHarmony has implemented a new industry standard when disclosing terms in order to make the user experience even better. With the settlement now behind us, we look forward to continuing the important work of helping singles find enduring love.”
Online “subscriptions” and other automatically recurring charges have proliferated in the U.S. in recent years, officials have said.
Some renewals come after “free trials,” where consumers need to cancel in time to avoid the charges.
Federal and state law requires businesses to make these auto-renewals clear to consumers and to get their “express, affirmative consent” before they collect any money.
However, many businesses still don’t follow this law, authorities say.
In August 2017, Santa Monica’s Consumer Protection Division obtained a $3.6 million settlement with Beachbody, one of the world’s largest sellers of exercise videos, supplements, and weight-loss programs ("Santa Monica Multinational Fitness Business to Pay Nearly $3.6 Million in Settlement," August 30, 2017).
That settlement included the first injunction in California to require the separate check-box to ensure that consumers knowingly consent before they are enrolled in auto-renewals.
Deputy City Attorney Gary Rhoades also worked on the eHarmony case.
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