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Recent Online Dating Company IPO Raises Questions About Privacy

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 24/02/2016 Paul Alexander

The IPO may have been successful, but it has created troubling concerns.
In November 2015, the Match Group, a Dallas-based company comprised mostly of online dating websites, completed an Initial Public Offering worth $460 million. Listed on NASDAQ and priced at $12 a share, 38.3 million shares were sold. Still, this represented a small percentage of the company, since Match's parent company, IAC/InterActiveCorp, headquartered in New York City, retained 84.6 percent of the company's capital stock. That would make the Match Group worth $3.1 billion.
No doubt there's big money in online dating, which has seen dramatic growth over the past decade as more people seek a date by going online instead of heading to a bar or a nightclub, and Match boasts some of the best-known sites in the business. Besides Match.com, its flagship site, the company owns, mostly as a result of acquisition, OkCupid, Meetic, Twoo, Plentyoffish, FriendScout24, BlackPeopleMeet, OurTime.com, and Chemistry.com. In all, Match has 45 brands in 38 languages that are available in 190 countries around the world.
Perhaps Match's most famous brand is Tinder, a location-based app that allows users to find likeminded individuals located near them who are also looking to meet up. Founded in 2012, the app became so popular so fast that within two years it was recording one billion daily page "swipes" (when a user touches an image on an app). Obviously, a lot of people are using Tinder -- 24 million in 2015, according to industry analysts. That number accounts for roughly 40 percent of Match's 59 million monthly users out of which 4.7 are paid members.
Despite its success, Match's IPO was not without controversy. Specifically, questions were raised by IAC's decision to include two educational companies along with the dating sites in the newly-formed Match Group. While IAC owns non-dating-site companies like CollegeHumor, Dictionary.com, Ask.com, and About.com, it chose to bypass them and include The Princeton Review and Tutor.com. The Princeton Review is a widely used test prep company, and Tutor.com provides tutors who can be hired on an hourly basis, meaning both entities are targeted to high school and college students.
The problem is obvious. By mingling two educational companies that feature large student populations with dating websites, does Match intend for a student's personal information to be accessed by those dating websites? One has to look no further than the Princeton Review privacy policy to find the answer.
The policy states "we may collect certain information from your computer each time you visit our site" -- information like data "regarding your academic and extracurricular activities and interests." That information can be used to "send you email notices and offers; perform research and analysis about your use of or interest in our products, services or products or services offered by others; [and] develop and display content and advertising tailored to your interests on our site and other sites." Other sites? Yes, because a user's information can be shared "with vendors and other third parties." Sites like Tinder, Match.com, etc.
"Student privacy ought to be protected from unscrupulous business practices," Linda Chavez, a conservative commentator, wrote following the Match IPO. "A good start would be requiring a company such as the Match Group to ensure that their private data of its underage customers not be used as a profit center to boost revenues in its dating services. It would be good if the company itself would uphold high ethical standards by setting up a firewall between its education services and its dating services." If not? Some critics believe legislation should be enacted to require it.
But there are other concerns. Simply by being part of the Match Group The Princeton Review is a target for hackers. Match made the admission in IPO filing documents, declaring, "We are frequently under attack by perpetrators of random or targeted malicious technology-related events. There can be no assurance that our efforts will prevent significant breaches in our systems or other such events from occurring."
That is exactly what happened last year when Ashley Madison, a dating site catering to married people who want to have an affair, was hacked. The theft of personal information for millions of the site's users prompted suicides, among them a Baptist minister in Louisiana.
Should a parent be worried when his or her child signs up for The Princeton Review or Tutor.com that the child's personal information will be not only shared with online dating websites but also targeted by hackers? The answer appears to be yes -- and it will be until Match makes definitive moves to prevent such developments from happening.

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