Dating website eHarmony has agreed to change its website and sales practices after a $2.2 million settlement with a task force of local prosecutors that included the city of Santa Monica, according to a judgement filed this week in Santa Cruz County Superior Court. The lawsuit alleged that eHarmony failed to provide copies of contracts to subscribers and disclose their right to cancel.

Under the settlement, eHarmony will reimburse California subscribers enrolled in automatic renewal or continuous service plans between March 10, 2012 and Dec. 13, 2016 who were either charged without their consent or after they tried to cancel. District attorneys from Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Napa and Shasta counties were involved with the lawsuit.

“Automatic renewal is one of the critical areas in consumer protection today,” said Santa Monica Chief Deputy City Attorney Adam Radinsky, head of the Consumer Protection Division, in a statement to the Daily Press. “Consumers always have the right to know where their money is going.”

The lawsuit also alleged that eHarmony engaged in false advertising. In an email to the Daily Press, eHarmony’s vice president and general counsel said the company settled without admission to avoid the distraction and expense of protracted litigation.

“In collaboration with the government, eHarmony has implemented a new industry standard when disclosing terms in order to make the user experience even better,” Ronald N. Sarian said. “With the settlement now behind us, we look forward to continuing the important work of helping singles find enduring love.”

In Aug. 2017, the same division in the City Attorney’s Office obtained a $3.6 million settlement with Beachbody over auto-renewals. The settlement included a requirement to include a separate box that consumers must check to consent to a rolling membership.

“The separate check-box is key,” Radinsky said. “Otherwise, it’s too confusing. Companies have too many ways to hide the auto-renewal terms.”

California’s auto-renewal law requires companies to clearly reveal terms and get consent before charging a customer’s bank account. An update to the law going into effect July 1 outlined stricter guidelines on free-trials that end with a paid subscription and required companies to provide a way to cancel online, not just on the phone or by mail.

“Recent lawsuits suggest that businesses are pushing the envelope with what is lawful, and consumers are continuing to face hurdles in cancelling agreements or fully deciphering what the terms of those agreements are,” a recent legislative analysis of California’s laws found. More than twenty states now have laws concerning auto-renewal policies.

A clinical psychologist launched eHarmony from its Santa Monica headquarters in 2000, becoming the first algorithm-based dating site. The website is now headquartered in Los Angeles. While the dating service swelled to millions of users in the beginning, it has since faced tough competition from mobile-based apps like Tinder and Bumble. Last year, Business Insider reported the number of paid subscribers on eHarmony has hovered around 750,000 people for the last five years. To compare, Tinder claims to set up a million dates every week.

Kate Cagle

Senior reporter for the Santa Monica Daily Press