The ICO is set to crack down on dating websites which readily sell users' details, and how they handle personal data.
Following an investigation by the BBC's Panorama, the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has said that it has written to eHarmony, match.com, Cupid and Global Personals, as well as the industry trade body, the Association of British Introduction Agencies, over concerns about handling personal data.
Panorama found that dating profiles could be bought online, with a database of 10,000 profiles including names, email addresses and photographs of UK residents readily available. Those profiles were taken from social networking sites and users were not aware that this was available, nor were they dating website users.
The ICO's own survey of major UK dating websites identified areas where the Data Protection Act was not being followed.
It has asked the companies to respond to allegations on: poor visibility of the terms and conditions that give the website consent to use personal information in certain ways; how those terms and conditions make reference to the dating company having ‘perpetual' or ‘irrevocable' licence to use members' data; whether the websites have any responsibility for the loss of or damage to personal information; and whether users are being expected to provide personal details before the terms and conditions are provided.
Simon Entwisle, ICO's director of operations, said: “The evidence we're being presented with by the media suggests quite concerning business practices by some dating websites, and there are particular questions around how people's information is being used that need to be answered.
“It's concerning to see that there appear to be sites which, as a matter of course, are falling far short of the legal standards for ensuring information is accurate and up to date.
“While media reports are painting a disturbing picture, the number of complaints we're getting from the public is not very high. That could be because this is only an issue with a small minority of websites, or it could be because people are reluctant to come forward.
“The work we're doing now will help us to better understand the scale of the issue. As part of that work, we'd urge anyone who believes a dating website has misused their data to get in touch with us.”