Why Bots Like Dating Sites

Verified_Human_Whitelist

Dating services employ any number of  anti-fraud solutions. Over the years I’ve seen registered devices (doesn’t work), geo-IP lookups and all sorts of home-brewed solutions.

Are You Human is a technology used to fight bots, which supposedly account for 2/3’s of most dating site traffic. Back in the day, Markus at POF told me that something like 75% (I think?) of their code base was focused on anti-fraud measures. That blew me away.

The humans at Are You Human say:

Instead of searching for bots, which evolve in a matter of days, “Are You Human” finds and verifies humans by analyzing natural user behavior across hundreds of thousands of websites. After they have consistently seen and verified a user as human, they’re added to the Whitelist™, and then re-verified over and over again each day. Bots can’t consistently look and act like real humans on every page, every day, so they’re never added to the list, and all that’s left are real humans.

“Are you Human” started in 2010, initially as a verification technology to replace the obnoxious twisted text known as CAPTCHA. Since then, we’ve evolved to analyze natural interaction in any environment, and now we analyze and re-verify hundreds of millions of humans every day in interactions across millions of websites.

More information.

Is The End Of Ashley Madison Near?

ashley madison hacked
Cheater dating site Ashley Madison has been hacked by someone who worked there in the past in a technical capacity. The person was upset that AM was charging people to remove their profiles completely.

Instead of doing what everyone else supposedly does, AM charged $17 for what amounts to running an SQL database query to remove all traces of a user from their system. And that was complete BS.

The hacker states:

“Full Delete netted ALM $1.7mm in revenue in 2014. It’s also a complete lie,” the hacking group wrote. “Users almost always pay with credit card; their purchase details are not removed as promised, and include real name and address, which is of course the most important information the users want removed.

Avid Life Media has been instructed to take Ashley Madison and Established Men offline permanently in all forms, or we will release all customer records, including profiles with all the customers’ secret sexual fantasies and matching credit card transactions, real names and addresses, and employee documents and emails. The other websites may stay online.

No wonder they were hacked. Full Delete was a lame feature to offer, and it made them less than $2M last year. Was that revenue worth the impending backlash the company may suffer? Not to mention that investors are probably reconsidering participation in the planned Ashley Madison IPO.

The breach, which could reveal the identities of millions of cheaters, seriously erodes consumer confidence in the brand. I don’t think there is a risque billboard that can save them at this point. We’ll look at the AM numbers in six months to gauge the impact of the hack.

More at Krebs On Security.

The Match Group to Acquire POF (PlentyOfFish)

Markus Sam Dave
Sam Yagan, CEO of The Match Group, David Evans, Online Dating Insider, and Markus Frind, founder of POF

 

The Match Group, the global operator of digital dating products such as Match, Tinder, OkCupid and Meetic, and a subsidiary of IAC, announced today that it has entered into a definitive agreement to purchase PlentyOfFish for US$575 million in cash.

I wrote Be Plenty Scared of Plenty Of Fish in 2oo5 and again in an Inc. Magazine article, And the Money Comes Rolling In.

POF founder Markus Frind stands to make around $525 million on the deal. This is an extraordinary move for Match. I think from here on out we’ll get a Tinder every few years and nobody will be able to touch Match, at least in English speaking countries, for the next decade.

Of course hundreds of new mobile dating apps will continue to launch every year in the hopes of being the Next Big Thing. But of the 50 or so apps that made it on to my home screen last year, I can’t remember 95% of them. That’s a huge problem for the industry, a lack of discernibly different dating app experiences.

Seems like the Match Group is all set for their split from IAC. Match buys Hinge next, because Hinge investors are in for $20M and want a return on their investment soon, not a dragged-out deal like Zoosk. I wonder how long Match will wait to do the Hinge transaction?

Investor Alert: There are a number of dating startups in South America trying to grow large enough to be acquired by Match. Want to hear about them?

More at Seeking Alpha.

AARP Wants Dating Sites To Crack Down On Fraud

romance_scamsHow interesting that the AARP ignored the dating industry for over a decade and now calls for the industry to crack down on fraud, probably because lots of their members are getting scammed on their own dating site, powered by HowAboutWe, which is owned by Match. More info on the deal.

I wonder if AARP talked to Match before they started a media campaign that attacks their own business partner?

 

According to the FBI, Americans lost $82 million to online dating fraud in just the last six months of 2014. 

The dating industry has left singles to fend for themselves since it’s inception. I don’t consider articles about brushing your teeth before a date and not leaving your credit card on the table after dinner to be especially useful, but then again I brush several times daily and don’t give money to strangers based on transparent sob stories.

The dating industry has had an enormous toolbox of safety measures to work with for a long time. They haven’t because many of the solutions introduce friction into the customer acquisition and retention process. That’s certainly a large part of there is so much online dating scamming going on.

In fact, there is no technology on the planet that can keep older folks and those with a propensity towards being clueless when it comes to self-preservation from letting themselves be scammed.

And now the AARP’s Fraud Watch Network has launched an online petition urging the online dating industry to institute new safeguards to better protect their users. The Association is inviting its members and the general public to become involved in the national campaign by signing the petition.

The Fraud Watch Network urges the online dating sites to implement include:

— Employ algorithms to detect suspicious language patterns used by
scammers.
— Search for fake profiles across multiple dating websites.
— Issue alerts to any member who has been in contact with someone using a
fraudulent profile.
— Educate members with tips on how to avoid romance scammers.

Can you imagine signing a petition and having the dating industry fall right in line, spending millions of dollars on anti-fraud services it should have implemented years ago? As I said about the AARP HowAboutWe deal, pigs certainly are able to fly given the right circumstances.

 

Cuban Disses CMB, Funds Competitor Courtem

courtem datingThe Coffee Meets Bagel crash & burn on Shark Tank has led to an interesting development.

Mark Cuban, who’s $30M offer the CMB sisters turned down, has invested in Courtem, a dating app from the Anheuser-Busch family. Cuban serves as an advisor and holds an equity stake in the company.

Singles join Courtem to see, “what someone might offer them as the best date of their life.” Courtem goes beyond simply the shallow (at first glance) interactions of other dating apps and urges users to thoroughly review another’s profile, interests, friends-in-common, proximity, and rating to help them develop their best date proposal. The direct date proposal system eliminates swiping and judging on a “hot or not” basis.

Oh the lies. The first thing I see when I log in is a Tinder interface, complete with swiping! They call it a 360-degree dating application. I call it yet another Tinder clone with some reputation and scheduling baked in. Plus, they use “court” as a noun, the press release is full of grammatical errors and there is a big dumb Patent Pending thing on the home page. As if. I’m picky about this stuff, big boooo to the Courtem marketing and PR teams.

Progressive communication features are nice, I’ll give them that, but they lost me already because even though I am in Vermont, the app only shows me two 18 year old women. How can such esteemed founders forget to front-load the database and make sure this doesn’t happen? Facepalm.

There’s more than a little HowAboutWe baked into the mix as well. Because we know how well date suggestions work out, right?

The Doodle-like scheduling of the day and time of our next communication is neat but talk about friction.

As I thought, the app is as bland and tasteless as the beer.

Maybe version 2.0 will grace us with a bevy of stellar improvements, you never know.

Scamalytics Release Industry Report on Scammers and Dating Fraud | Scamalytics

GDI

Global Dating Insights and Scamalytics have collaborated on a scammers and dating fraud report.

The report covers scammers and dating fraud and what the industry and third-parties can do to combat the threat they pose.

They look at the current frauds infecting mobile apps like Tinder, trends like sextortion, and how these scammers are adapting their methods to the new dating landscape, and cleverly circumventing security measures.

The report also seeks to show that stopping dating scammers is not only a huge positive for both the customer and the industry as the whole, but can also be good for business.

Download the report here (PDF).

Coffee Meets Bagel Lands $7.8M Funding

Today’s dating industry jaw-dropper is that Coffee Meets Bagel has managed to convince investors to give them almost $8M to continue to build and grow the straggling service. Investors just gave a niche service a huge pot of gold. Full details at TechCrunch.

Only a few weeks ago, CMB failed spectacularly on Shark Tank, flubbing their pitch and then turning down $30 million from Mark Cuban, the biggest offer ever on the show. Unbelievable.

I would have taken the money and run. Delivering singles one match a day doesn’t work. People want choice, just look at Tinder.

The Kang sisters report the site has made more than 20 million matches with 10,000 couples in relationships and about 80 couples engaged or married. As for the turning down Cuban’s offer, they say they have no regrets.

I don’t care about:

  • 20 million matches
  • 10,000 couples in relationships
  • 80 engaged/married couples
  • Mark Cuban’s television posturing

Engagement numbers are where it’s at, not visitor or number of matches, whatever that means (different definition for many sites). What I want to know is how many people have responded to communication requests. Everything else is investor spin.

Somebody call me a doctor. Speaking of spin, my head was spinning when I read about the twenty million matches. Just what does that mean? I assume it means 40 million people have been matched. That’s crazy. Or are they counting people matched multiple times? The lack of any standard metrics in the dating industry is a decade-old problem with no solution in sight. Drives me nuts.

I would have loved to sit in on the investor partner meetings when they dug into the hard-core due diligence. Those guys have balls of steel and need a place to spend their cash, and ding ding ding CMB welcome to being owned by The Money People, best of luck keeping them at bay. If there was more traction I’d be less likely to say that, but CMB has to execute perfectly, otherwise they’re toast, especially since they admitted to at linking up around 30 people a year.

Millions of dollars and 5+ years to strongly connect 160 people. Think about that.

In what other industry can a 0.05% success rate raise $8 million dollars? That’s about the same chances as getting someone to click on a banner ad.

At this point we’ll sit back for the year and watch Hinge and CMB battle it out, at least from the perspective that they have both raised significant amounts of capital and have some overlap in terms of functionality.

I think Hinge will go the way of HowAboutWe. Big buildup, funding, media darlings and then when the hype has settled, reality sets in. Friends matching friends is old hat, and strangely it’s never really worked in the digital space. Sure there are many matches being made across a couple of services, but in the grand scheme of things, barely making a ripple.

Hopefully all of this money will allow Hinge and Coffee Meets Bagel to figure things out. That’s a long runway and also a lot of time for competitors to come in with cheaper/better/faster and more effective offerings.

I worked on my first friends-matching-friends service in 2009. That was six years ago. And for all the hype, now all we have is Hinge and CMB, that’s it! Even LikeBright pivoted to anonymous chat, and they were deep into friend-matching.

Just wait until Match unveils a friend-matching app, that’s going to be fun to watch.

Unsecure Android Dating Apps Everywhere

ibm mobile security audit
Dating apps are fun to hack for knowledge and profit. No mention of iOS apps in this IBM story,  but this is not exactly surprising. Dating site apps are so easy to crank out these days, security is an afterthought at most companies.

An analysis conducted by IBM Security found over 60 percent of leading dating mobile apps on Android are potentially vulnerable to a variety of cyber-attacks that put personal user information and corporate data at risk.

The IBM study reveals that many of these dating applications have access to additional features on mobile devices such as the camera, microphone, storage, GPS location and mobile wallet billing information, which in combination with the vulnerabilities may make them exploitable to hackers. IBM also found that nearly 50 percent of organizations have at least one of these employee-installed popular dating apps on mobile devices used to access confidential business information.

The good news is that today’s mobile dating apps are so generic and basic, there’s not much personal information to steal. But in terms of corporate data, have fun hackers. #ismatchthenexttarget

More at IBM Security.

Thoughts on Valentine’s Day

For over a decade I’ve received thousands of press releases regarding Valentine’s Day. Here’s why I’ve stopped posting anything to do with this particular holiday.

Throwing an infographic related to dating on your Quick Loan website and asking me to link to it. Lame.

Anything to do with Tinder. Overdone and boring.

Guest posts of any kind: It’s not 2009 anymore. Fire your marketing person and find someone that knows that they’re doing. Anyone that doesn’t understand that infographics and guest posts are dead doesn’t get mentioned. So do people that argue this point.

Brands cashing in on Valentine’s Day hype that I don’t hear from the other 364 days of the year. Unless you’re sending me a crate of Internet-connected sex toys, don’t bother.

General polls and other stuff that is meaningless, like the amount of chocolate eaten per capita in the US. Really?

You know what I think? The Thanksgiving through Valentine’s Day busy season for the dating industry is coming to an end. Dating is a year-around undertaking and people don’t expect to get a date for Valentine’s day anymore.

One way to gauge this is by looking at quarterly ad spend at large dating sites. Maybe someone enterprising will do this when this quarters’ numbers are out.