SAN JOSE, Calif. (CN) – A state court jury awarded a man nearly $16 in damages after finding that Positivesingles.com – a dating website for STD-positive singles – shared his profile with millions of users despite the promise of “100 percent” confidentiality.
John Doe sued Positivesingles.com and its parent company, Successfulmatch.com, in Santa Clara County court in 2011, for unfair competition and violations of California’s Consumer Legal Remedies Act.
Doe represents a class of users who also posted profiles on Positivesingles.com, which “preys on the vulnerability of the members of the public that test positive for STDs,” according to the complaint.
STD-positive singles are lured in with “empathetic sounding statements like ‘you feel like you are all alone in the world, do you wish there was a place where you didn’t have to worry about being rejected or discriminated,'” Doe said in the original complaint. The Positivesingles website goes on to bill itself as “a warmhearted and exclusive community for singles and friends with STDs” that “cares about your privacy more than other sites,” Doe added.
But the man said that what the website doesn’t tell users is that its parent company, Successfulmatch.com, mines the profiles and displays “the personal profile, picture and other information of those who have one condition or characteristic” on thousands of its subsidiary websites – often portraying users as something they are not: HIV-positive, kinky, Christian, black, gay, or any number of other characteristics that may or may not apply to them.
So Positivesingles.com’s promise of a free and anonymous profile is really just a license for Successfulmatch’s 732,000 users to view full profiles and make their own judgments about Doe, who says he is not black, gay, Christian or HIV-positive. That violates both state unfair competition and consumer laws, the man claimed.
Last week, a jury agreed and awarded Doe and the class $1,493,943.43 in compensatory damages, and another $15 million in punitives.
For the compensatory damages, the jury unanimously agreed that the websites made misleading statements and misrepresented their affiliation. Those misrepresentations and misleading promises led Doe and other users to sign up for Positivesingles memberships, the jury found.
The jury also found oppression, malice and fraud on the part of the websites, leading to the $15 million punitive damages award.
A similar federal case against the websites filed by two women from Canada and Washington state is still alive after U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose dismissed their claims for failing to show what specific statements of privacy they relied on in joining Positivesingles.com.
The women – identified in their complaint as Jane Doe I and Jane Doe II – filed an amended class action in that case last month.
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