Beware what you share while searching for love online - your intimate details may linger long after you have found it.
That's the warning from the Privacy Commission of Canada in a report tabled today in Parliament, which investigated the privacy practices of online dating sites. The investigation stemmed from a complaint by a Canadian woman who had asked eHarmony to delete her online account after she ended her membership. As part of its registration, eHarmony requires clients to submit a "comprehensive relationship questionnaire," which the report notes, consists of 300 questions on character, income, family background and sexual vitality.
The woman checked back on the site a few days after making her request and found that the account had not been deleted. She contacted eHarmony again, and the company told her that while her account was now "inaccessible" to other members, it could not "entirely delete her record of having joined, or remove her personal information."
When the privacy commission investigated, they discovered that there was no clear way to delete an account. Instead, eHarmony said that it "anonymizes" the information. The company said it doesn't wipe out accounts because 40 per cent of member reactivate within two years. (A weak argument, the privacy report suggested, since it means that the majority of users do not return.)
This wasn't good enough, the privacy commission said. The online dating site should give users a chose between deactivating accounts and deleting them permanently - and needed to be clear about the process for doing so. eHarmony responded by saying it would keep personal information of departing clients for two years - while making it inaccessible to other users and permanently removing all "identifiable data."
While the commission accepted eHarmony's actions, the report also pointed out that many of the online dating sites do not have privacy policies.
To protect themselves, online daters should check that the sites they are using allow their profiles to be deleted - and not retained on a database. They should also check privacy polices to see how the site handles personal information when members leave.
The global online dating industry is raking in between $3-billion and $4-billion a year. That's a lot of personal details spilled - and likely embellished - in the search for a soulmate. And if you do find love, the privacy commissioner concludes, you have a right to want the slate - and all that potentially embarrassing data - wiped clean.
Are you worried about your dating profile - past or present - semi-permanently existing on the Internet?