So How Much Does “True.com” Pay the NYT In Advertising Fees?

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Given that the headline for the NYT article about this dating service labels True.com “Hot But Virtuous” I’m guessing it is a sizeable amount.

The article itself rather repulsively starts out thusly: “The women who appear in Web ads for the dating site True.com almost certainly do not need to look online for a date.” Because they are beautiful, and only ugly people “need to look online for a date”? The “virtuous” part of this company is supposedly reflected in the following:

True’s rise has been controversial. The company has riled competitors like Match.com and Yahoo Personals, which say that True’s lowbrow advertisements clash with its high-minded lobbying and legal efforts. True, which conducts criminal background checks on its subscribers, is the primary force behind a two-year-old campaign to get state legislatures to require that social Web sites prominently disclose whether or not they perform such checks.

True also says it is preparing to sue an ex-convict from Florida in Texas state court for violating its terms of service by joining the site. …

… True joined the crowded online dating scene in 2004. To distinguish itself from the pack, it offered a range of personality and sexuality surveys. It also hired the data broker ChoicePoint to perform background checks on customers to ensure that they had no criminal record and were not married.

The company then tried to have laws passed in several states that would require other sites to conduct background checks or disclose that they do not.

Companies like Yahoo, Google and IAC/InterActiveCorp, which owns Match.com, lobbied against the proposal through NetCoalition, an industry trade group. Markham Erickson, the group’s executive director, said background checks were ineffective, partly because felons can easily circumvent them by providing false information.”Their initial sound bite sounds great, but once you get past that, you realize it’s totally unworkable,”he said.

True has had little political success so far, but is backing bills that legislators are considering in Florida, Texas and Michigan.

However, True’s commitment to “virtue” apparently does not preclude it from manipulating users with “artificial winks”:

…The site has also been criticized for generating random”winks”: the industry term for messages of interest from other members. Dan Consiglio, a 49-year-old engineer from Vancouver, Wash., said he received dozens of winks from women after signing up for True, and responded to many of them. He got only one response, from a woman who kindly informed him that she had not, in fact, winked at him.

Mr. Vest acknowledged that the service sends artificial winks, but he said users have the option to disable them and that they serve an important purpose.”We try getting people who otherwise might be very retiring or shy to meet each other and fall in love and have children,”he said.”We are just trying to do our job as a matchmaker.”

Rather than “hot and virtuous” I’m thinking “dumb and sleazy” but this kind of cynicism is probably why I’ll never get a job writing headlines for the NYT. The question posed in the title to this post is a serious one, though. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen True.com advertisements on the NYT.com site and I’d expect the author, “Brad Stone,” to disclose this commercial relationship in the article, but it is not mentioned, which is odd and ethically questionable.

–Ann Bartow

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