Online dating has moved from being a niche activity to a part of everyday life. It is enjoyed daily by millions and is the largest single source of new relationships.
Providing online dating services online and through mobile apps has some exciting, stimulating but also challenging and sensitive issues. People are, by definition, looking to make new contacts, new friendships and new relationships. This can create uncertainties, vulnerabilities as people hopefully move into those new friendships and relationships.
In summer 2013 a group of dating site providers in the UK decided that it was right to create a body that would allow the sector to work together on standards and speak as one voice with regulators, law enforecement agencies and others. Simply put, these services had come of age and needed to take some shared responsibility for the wellbeing of the sector and its users - and not just rely solely on the framework of privacy, data and consumer law to protect the market and those in it.
We, like other sectors, saw the need to give such regulations "life" and to draw out, highlight and give meaning to those that particularly matter for online daters. A Code of Practice and our advice for the public on the best and safe use of services was published in December 2013. The Code was short, simple and outcomes-based. It focused on the core issues for users: the clarity and honesty of the services offered, the protection of user's personal information, the proper operation of services and the advice and help we give users to make dating as enjoyable and safe as possible.
The arrangements were reviewed in 2018 in light of various developments:
- The ways in which dating services are now “mainstream”: used by millions in pretty much every country and by all age groups, faiths, without locational, social or other boundaries
- The increasingly international nature of operators – with bases across the world and with services offered in many countries, the UK included
- The extent to which user and regulatory issues are common everywhere – clarity when joining a service, an understanding of how it works and the support offered, the need to present commercial, contractual and payment information fairly and the need to manage personal data with care. There is also the need to deter those who might seek to use services for the wrong reasons and, therefore the need to give users advice and guidance on having a safe as well as great dating experience.
The ODA’s aim is to be as inclusive as possible, involving all in the sector as standards are developed and making these guides and examples of good practice available to all, with the same going for all the Date Safe material generated by the Association.
Moving from a Code of relevance to a sub-set of providers to material that can be used by anyone and in any market or country feels the approach most likely to raise standards across the board and assure state regulators that this is a sector that takes its responsibilities seriously.
We believe this matters going forward. Dating services cannot generate perhaps a third of all new relationships and not expect law and policy makers to have an interest in how this is delivered. Engaging with the European Commission and governments and regulators and interest groups seems certain to be a high priority for the ODA in future.
Membership of the ODA
The ODA was founded by thirteen leading players from national and international providers, as well as specialist/niche operators and others brands, who wish to offer their customers a dating service through partnership and out-sourcing arrangements that can account for thousands of individual sites.
Membership was opened in December 2013 to all online dating service providers in the product categories covered by ODA (See “Becoming an ODA Member”). And membership is open to entities based anywhere in the world, although the initial focus with the Code etc was on those offering services to UK users. Member companies include business based in the US, Continental Europe and Australia. UK-based members trade in these markets but also the Far East and elsewhere.
Leading brands and a number of niche providers have come on board including businesses offering online dating solely on mobile devices through new Apps. The ODA is keen to grow further in order to maximise the coverage of its standards and good practice and the protection these offer, and to strengthen our voice with Government and others.