I share with you a recent case I dealt with regarding eHarmony.
I was contacted by a client who is a well respected teacher in Western Australia. Someone had created a fake profile on eHarmony in her name, which was seeking interest in NSA (no strings attached) sex with males in Perth. The profile was active for days before she became aware of it's existence. The post included her full name and home address, as well as the school she worked at and encouraged prospective sex partners to attend the school or her home 'for a secret lover'!
Just imagine having someone walking through your school carpark at the end of the day, approaching children and asking where this teachers class was? Imagine answering your front door to strange men, each saying he was there for some fun, whilst your 2 young children play in the living room behind you? This innocent victim of a cruel prank came under investigation by her employer because of this account. It caused her embarrassment with her work colleagues, the parents of her school and her employer. How does a person explain that?
So, like most people in the online world would do, she thought to make contact with eHarmony to get the fake account removed. Simple right? How hard could that be? The ability for the users or non-users of online environments to make contact with a real person, especially with social networks is extremely difficult. Contact is software generated or generic and in pretty much all cases, people simply get caught up in a loop of reporting that goes nowhere and they give up.
The teacher visited the eHarmony 'Help' page and filled out an online reporting form for non-users. Good start, that should offer some relief, right? The next day she received an automated email advising her complaint would not be responded to because she was 'not an eHarmony member'! This lady now seemed compelled to create an account on eHarmony in order to report on their network. She was asked to provide personal information to a network she does not want to share her details with in order to be heard.
So after she does this, is she heard? Of course not! Another generic response to a matter that has now been active for almost a week. After getting nowhere and in utter distress, her husband calls me for help. Aware of the pathetic reporting options for non-users on eHarmony, I decide to contact CEO Grant Langston directly through another platform. To his credit, Grant did get back to me within 7 hours and within 20 hours the fake account was removed. He was apologetic and forwarded me the email address of the eHarmony 'Chief Customer Care Officer' Carlos Robles for me to voice my concerns. I therefore sent an email to Robles regarding this incident, asking what eHarmony was doing regarding the flaws in their reporting options and why this fake account was not detected and acted upon earlier.
Sadly, I do not get a personal response from Robles. Instead, I get a generic email from an un-named source at 'eHarmony Customer Care'. In a 2 paragraph 'cut & paste' response, I was advised the incident was (in their opinion) dealt with promptly and that "eHarmony take the concerns of users and non-users very seriously." I replied to this generic email (Cc'd Robles), requesting who it was I was corresponding with and questioning the points raised. No sooner do I press 'send', do I receive another automated response advising the email address I was responding to DOES NOT ACCEPT RESPONSES!!!!
To Carlos Robles, Chief Customer Care Officer at eHarmony, not only do I call this unprofessional and unconcerning, but I consider it gutless! If your CEO requests you act on a concern, at least have the decency to respond yourself! But, sadly this is what we have come to expect from such online environments. The lack of true accountability and contactability is only matched by the lack of concern such organisations have for users and non-users when things go wrong or when their practices are questioned.
It remains my goal to build the accountability of such online environments. To get them to take true and direct action on reports instead of the software based reporting options most if not all are currently using. I believe it is no longer acceptable to create an online environment without putting in place appropriate levels of reporting. All major networks should have direct contact points where users and non-users who are going through serious or potentially dangerous situations should be able to speak with a real person.
I ask who is the first to have the guts to actually do it?