Why become a member of the Online Dating AssociationOnline dating is now a part of everyday life for millions of people. It is the largest single way in which relationships start in the UK today. Online dating businesses serve the public when they are looking for new relationships, romance, love and the possibility of a new and lasting partnership.
For these reasons online dating has a high media, regulatory and political profile and there is a responsibility on providers to manage services to a good standard. This is particularly true in relation to a set of core issues around privacy and data protection, user safety and marketing, membership and payment issues.
The ODA was set up in 2013 by a number of industry players who saw the need for the industry to step up and take responsibility for setting and maintaining standards. This was based in part on building understanding and compliance with the key laws and regulations that apply to all businesses but may matter particularly to online dating companies. It was also to address specific issues that the industry has seen or fears it will see that could do serious damage to user trust and the health of the UK market.
The Association will have an important and traditional role as a trade body – ensuring the sector is properly represented so that it has a stronger voice with Government, regulators, the media, financial service providers, social networks and others.
Role and benefitsWe can only speculate on where online and mobile dating will go over the coming years and on the roles that the ODA might play and the benefits we might deliver. Today and in the medium term we see very considerable benefits in an association that delivers:
Industry standards and guidance – We have a Code of Practice based on core principles and rules, focused on user needs and rights that also ensure members do not act in ways that disadvantages competitors by damaging the market for everyone. We aim to produce guidance relating to each element of the Code; helping members understand ways of achieving compliance – without seeking to dictate or prescribe exactly how services should be run.
Informed Choice and assurance – Membership information and ODA branding that will tell users which providers are ODA members and give reassurance that any of their services will abide by a clear set of fair rules and that action will be taken in the event of a problem. We are working with the Information Commissioner, the Police and consumer groups on various issues around user safety and campaigns will highlight the ODA, its logo and membership as a positive assurance for users.
Strategic intervention – if required. The ODA has no wish to take over the responsibility its members have for customer service. Indeed, the ODA emphasises the importance of members having the appropriate arrangements in place. But the ODA is there to deal with any wide and serious harm in the marketplace if Code rules are not followed. The ODA has the procedures and independent adjudication arrangements necessary to ensure objective and proportionate decisions are reached and problems are fixed.
A driving force for higher standards across the market – Choosing an ODA provider does give important assurance for users and as such has a value to the provider. But the ODA aim from the outset has been to build a wide membership based on high standards. By these means we aim to reinforce high standards across the whole market, reducing the risk that firms that offer a clear and valued service could be damaged by some fall in public trust because of the behaviour of others.
A voice – the industry is affected by laws, rules and regulators from many directions. Traditionally these came from national parliaments. Today some are EU wide, while others of equal importance may be set by social networks, search providers, by the financial sector or other commercial players whose decisions can have a direct and major impact on firms. The ODA will act as a voice for the industry. Whilst we cannot and would not want to stifle the voice of individual members, we know that the smallest to the largest players can all benefit when they are part of an association that clearly speaks for the sector as a whole in campaigns and on specific issues.
As a source of information – The ODA should act as the industry’s eyes and ears when laws, regulations or policies may be changing in ways that affect everyone. In the online dating sector the issues range from data protection and privacy, payment terms, tax changes and consumer protection law, issues of e-commerce and most importantly the safety of users.
A media presence – the ODA is already seen as an authoritative organisation that can speak for the sector professionally, consistently and positively. The ODA is not there to prevent or discourage businesses from promoting their services or answering for those services, but we can address issues on an industry-wide basis, de-personalising matters where appropriate.
As a source of best practice material – There are many areas where companies in the sector may feel the need for guidance, for example on compliance with the ODA Code of Practice or on the rules of key regulatory agencies such as the Information Commissioner’s Office, with whom we are already building a relationship.
As a source of research and other market information – data on a sector is key to the interest your stakeholders will take in online dating and the needs and views of the sector. The ODA will add to the existing blend of information and expects to become a definitive source of influential information as we grow and invest in research for and with members.
As an assurance to the commercial parties we interact with – Our ability to explain our role and work with others is a source of assurance for sectors that inter-act with online dating – financial services businesses, ISPs and mobile carriers, social networking and search firm who carry marketing and share an interest in safety and other issues.
Supporting you and your business – we have announced a partnership with Wiggin LLP which will provide ODA members with a unique package of benefits enabling to get access to specialists and insightful legal advice at preferential rates. More information can be found here.
Eligibility for membershipODA membership is open to all online dating providers offering services to UK consumers. This includes integrated providers who operate stand-alone services and “white label” providers who host and manage services on behalf of partner businesses.
ODA membership is open to businesses based overseas who serve UK customers and meet one of the descriptions in the first paragraph if those firms commit to the Code of Practice and meet the membership tests.
ODA membership does not extend to sites that offer adult services. The ODA does not seek to make any moral judgement over such services but, at this time, we believe these services have an adult entertainment characteristic that is different from the one that applies generally to dating sites that seek to offer friendship and new relationships. ODA membership is open to white label and integrated providers who run adult and mainstream dating services but only in relation to their non-adult services.
The ODA is ready to look positively at requests for membership or sponsor or associate membership from businesses who operate in the online dating “space” but who do not themselves run services. All these enterprises benefit from a healthy sector and should see value in supporting a body that contributes to this health. For our part ODA recognise that an association with a broader membership has to offer the networking opportunities and other member benefits that paid membership entail.
The membership process
Decisions on membership are taken by the ODA board based on recommendations from the Secretariat. The decision is based on an assessment of the information provided by prospective members on the ODA application form along with any supporting information.**
The form reflects the key issues in the ODA Code of Practice. It asks applicants to give an assurance they understand and can and will comply with the Code. The Code is largely outcomes-based; setting outcomes we seek to achieve in terms of clear terms and conditions, care in the handling of data, well-run services with appropriate customer service and arrangements to protect the users of services and also to help them protect themselves. Every ODA member is different and the Code does not prescribe how compliance should be achieved in each and every regard. The application process is an opportunity for future members to explain how they go about meeting these requirements.
If the board has doubts when considering a recommendation on membership it has the option of putting questions or suggestions back to the candidate member. This possibility of an extra bit of assessment is there not as a barrier, but as a simple way of removing any residual doubts or concerns.
Membership costsMembership payment is through an annual fee. The ODA fees are based on a business’s income from online dating. Fees are set for different bands of turnover with a low entry level rate for start-ups who have yet to charge or generate income by other means.
The ODA fees are reviewed annually and potential applicants should talk to us about your income and the likely cost of membership. Fees that represent a small fraction of one percent of turnover are thought to be a valuable and affordable investment in a healthy market.
Member responsibilitiesMembers financial and compliance and other responsibilities are set out in the ODA’s Articles of Association. The Articles set out the roles the ODA can play and its governance arrangements including appointments to the board and conduct of meetings and we would encourage prospective members to read these in full.
The ODA is a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee. Member liability for the debts of the association are limited to £1 per member. Section 25-27 of the Articles of Association sets out the duties on members, notice periods, termination rights and responsibilities and ownership transfer arrangements.
These Articles and the conditions in them are in line with the general arrangement for trade associations in the UK and elsewhere. We do not believe they should be a barrier to possible members, and actually hope the limited liability and our structure will give firms the confidence they can join without worries.