Know who you date; a chatbot or the love of your life?

Date-app met een match

Imagine that you find a cute dating profile and would like to chat with the person behind it. Often, you are linked to a dating site where you can chat with this person against payment. But what if those sweet messages you are receiving are not from this person? What if you are dating a chatbot that remembers all your personal and sensitive information? What can you do when you find out? In the television program Pointer on NPO Radio 1, Martien Schaub, Associate Professor of Civil Law at Erasmus School of Law, talks about this subject.

The Netherlands has around two thousand dating sites, of which not all profiles are real humans, but of which a chatbot and chat operators operate a part of the profiles. This is not always evident for the actual users of the site, and the companies behind these sites earn their money with the gathering of personal data of users and the payments from the users that send messages. Many users often do not know they have contact with fictive women, although they spend money to speak with them and share personal details about themselves.

Even when users ask whether these profiles are accurate, the chat operators beat around the bush, which is against the code of conduct by the Dutch Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM). Officially, these companies are obliged to answer such questions honestly, but during the research of Pointer, this has not happened once.

Unfair commercial practice

According to Schaub, this practice is not necessarily legal: "I would characterise this as an unfair commercial practice because the provided information about the nature of the service is not clear and understandable. That is not allowed". Schaub thinks these businesses could have consequences: "this is something that can be fined by the ACM. A customer could also claim compensation". To successfully claim, there must be actual damage. In this case, the damage would consist of the payments for the sent messages. Still, the fault of the customer also plays a role, says Schaub: "the own fault of the customer could play a role in this case. There is a second foundation which can be used in this instance; the customer could nullify this agreement and claim their money back."

Especially the dissolution of the agreement as an alternative for the compensation claim could succeed, using the proper arguments. "If you make an agreement that is based on unfair commercial practice and if you would not have made the agreement if you had known about this, and I think the people would not have agreed if they knew that the profiles were fake, so they can dissolve the agreement and claim their money back", argues the Associate Professor of Civil Law.

Invasion of privacy

In addition to the unfair commercial practice, consumers' personal information is being stored illegally. I think a distinction must be made between 'regular' and 'special' personal data. Special personal data include someone's religion, sexual preference, medical conditions, and other sensitive data. For the storage of this data, there are very strict norms. That information is generally not allowed to be processed," Schaub explains.

Associate professor
More information

Click here for the entire news item by Pointer (in Dutch).

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