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BBC Radio Investigates Cupid PLC

BBC investigates CupidPLCOver the weekend the BBC’s Adrian Goldberg aired an investigative piece centered on allegations that Cupid PLC had among other things made use of fake profiles and communications to entice members to sign up. Cupid LLC’s official response was that there are 100 test accounts in their systems (think Mystery Shoppers).

The interview starts with a man stating that he saw a number of women’s profiles from the same town stating the women were 51 and featuring measurements of 30-18-30. Another guy received a dozen of generic messages, paid to read them and found that on the whole the messages “seemed” fake. Most damning was the assertion that people are receiving messages from people they never contacted.

If Cupid LLC was creating fake profiles, they forgot to add some randomness to the profile generator. There are a number of other people interviewed with the usual suspicions- lots of contact from people, then they drop off the map, similar profiles and so on. Some of this is just typical online dating behavior.

But not once during the interview did I get the sense that Cupid PLC has engaged in systemic fraudulent behavior across the entire company.

Could there have been some funny business going on at Cupid PLC? I don’t doubt that at all. The company has 23 million active users, 500 employees in the Ukraine and 180 million chat messages per month. It’s a big company with a lot of moving parts and there are probably some people doing things they shouldn’t. Being listed on a public exchange only exacerbates the pressure to grow a business. Cupid’s stock is down and some analysts are wary, while others consider the stock a Buy.

But let’s get one thing straight, many dating sites have engaged in sketchy practices when it comes to growing their user databases. This is an industry-wide issue. Cupid LLC is just the latest to find themselves in the media’s crosshairs. Similar allegations have been made against Yahoo Personals, the Match fake profile lawsuit, Spark Networks and other sites over the years.

I’ve heard lots of stories over the years of how dating sites will do some pretty ridiculous things to achieve enough customer density to get people to stick around long enough to (re)monetize. Some choose to buy fake profiles during the launch process. I think most would agree that this is a terrible idea. Other use automated messaging of different sorts (email, IM, chat). This has been going on for a decade. The truth of the matter is that like any industry, there are always bad actors that will do anything to grow their businesses.

Cupid PLC’s Bill Dobbie was interviewed at the 31 minute mark. My ears perked up when he said in regards to online dating, “Buyer beware.” Truth, just like with anything else in life. But that doesn’t let Cupid LLC or any other dating site off the hook.

Look at Reddit, which admits to stuffing the site with fake profiles early on to get enough traction to take off and ultimately get acquired by Conde Naste.

Here’s Zynga’s CEO Mark Pinkus (via TechCrunch):

I knew that i wanted to control my destiny, so I knew I needed revenues, right, fu**ing, now. Like I needed revenues now. So I funded the company myself but I did every horrible thing in the book to, just to get revenues right away. I mean we gave our users poker chips if they downloaded this zwinky toolbar which was like, I don’t know, I downloaded it once and couldn’t get rid of it. *laughs* We did anything possible just to just get revenues so that we could grow and be a real business…So control your destiny. So that was a big lesson, controlling your business. So by the time we raised money we were profitable.

Perhaps the results of the BBC putting the spotlight on Cupid PLC will result in certain dating sites cleaning up their act when it comes to fake profiles and messages. But I wouldn’t hold my breath. Global legislation of the dating industry is a pipe dream and there is simply too much money to be made in online dating. Once you’ve sunk a ton of money into developing a site and marketing it, the dreams of riches can easily sway entrepreneurs to turn a blind eye to deceptive marketing and customer acquisition techniques.

Buyer beware, indeed.

Download the audio of the interview.

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  1. Have suspected that alot of dating sites use fake profiles to encourage people to sign up for a long time. This is nothing new really.

  2. Robert Jason says:

    The world of online dating has opened up a world of possibilities for women and men alike, increasing access to potential viable partners and decreasing loneliness in our fast-paced busy world. As with anything new (while it’s not SO new, it’s new when you think how long humans have been dating!) and promoting change, there’s always some initial fear or resistance, since it’s somewhat unknown and different from the practices we’re so familiar with. In any case, online dating, despite its high success rates, yielding many successful romances and marriages, seems to have gotten a bad rap as possibly dangerous. However, when you examine the facts, is it really any more dangerous than more traditional forms of dating?

    Traditional forms of dating are varied in and of themselves. Think of all the dates you, your friends and loved ones have been on. You may have met your date at the grocery store, at a social event, at a bar, or even on a setup through a mutual acquaintance. In all of these cases, just as someone you might find online, how much do you really know about them until you meet them? The answer is, not much.

    With that in mind, it is important to be cautious when dating, whether online or traditionally! However, caution and complete avoidance of dating due to fear are two totally different things. Take standard precautions. Meet your date in a public place for as many dates as it takes for you to feel comfortable. Let friends or family know where and when you’re going, just in case. While cautious, these are important steps to take to date safely, and not to let your fear of the unknown possible outcomes to stop you from living a full life!

  3. Years ago, back in 2007, i was asked to test the infamous adult dating site, adultfriendfinder . After trying it, they had female profiles that popped up at the same hour of the day everyday. There were likely operators or robots. It kept going on for years. I don’t know if it is still going on today but people should be cautious all the time.
    For some people, it is obvious that adultfriendfinder is a scam. There is no hundred of “hot” girls jumping on everything that move in every country. I am surprised to still see so many advertisements from adultfriendfinders websites. It means there is still money to do for webmasters and it means that some men still believe this a serious website.

    In fact, since many webmasters make money thanks to online dating websites thanks to their affiliate program. they are not interested in telling the truth on many websites. They perpetuate the idea that online dating sites are a gold mine of women. The more they send users to a dating site and the more they get money.

  4. There are soo many adult dating sites that I investigate it’s unreal. I would 80+ % of adult dating sites use fake profiles. I have done reviews and exposed these sites with all the evidence you would need to bust these people…


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