Love and the Law in the Match.com Legal Department
Valentine’s Day nets lots of hearts for online dating company Match.com and, not surprisingly, lots of work for the legal department, led by general counsel Curt Anderson. The Dallas-based outfit, which counts 1.6 million paid subscribers and operates dating websites in 25 countries, typically garners a 130 percent uptick in subscribers between Christmas and Cupid’s busiest day, the Wall Street Journal reports. And that translates into a steady flow of peak-season contracts, Anderson says.
Married for nearly 21 years, Anderson admits he’s not quite in his employer’s demographic. But the Utah native and former Baker Botts attorney professes his love for ecommerce, and has been in a committed relationship with Match’s small legal team since joining the IAC-owned media property in January 2010.
CorpCounsel.com caught up with Anderson when he was still trying to figure out Valentine’s Day plans for his wife, and still in the thick of the company's holiday rush. An edited version of that conversation follows.
CorpCounsel: What’s been coming across your desk recently?
Curt Anderson: This is a busy time for us on the contracting side. The end of the fourth quarter and the first quarter, into the second quarter, is when we have our big marketing push. And with Valentine’s Day, we see a lot of activity around this time of the year. We’ve been turning out a lot of contracts over the past few weeks.
CC: Those are marketing contracts?
CA: Yes, we’re doing a lot more offline marketing than we ever have, including television spots. But we do a lot online, obviously, placing ads on different websites. We also have large partnerships with Yahoo and MSN. Those partnerships require consistent attention, because the technology changes so much and ecommerce is such a fluid industry that you’re constantly maneuvering against little things that pop up.
CC: Do data security and privacy issues take up much of your time?
CA: Data security not so much. We have very sophisticated protections. We haven’t had big breaches that I’m aware of. Now, privacy is a little bit of a different issue. Privacy, of course, is the ‘Wild West’ out there. It is complete chaos from a legal perspective. I deal with privacy issues on a daily basis.
CC: What do you mean, it’s the ‘Wild West’?
CA: We collect a lot of information—both information [users] give us and information on their behavior [on our site]. So we receive subpoenas and requests for information for criminal cases—but more likely civil cases—on almost a daily basis. And our ability to release that information can become quite technical at times, on whether or not we have a right, or whether or not we should—from a best practices [standpoint]—give information to another party about somebody else.
CC: Background checks in online dating became an issue last year, including in a lawsuit Match faced. How does the company handle that area now?
CA: The idea that people have a good experience on the site with the people that they meet is very important to us. It’s very limited what we can do once people leave the site. So we have safety tips that we display everywhere. We ask people to read them and to agree to them. For the most part, if people follow the safety tips, they’re going to be as safe meeting someone on Match as anywhere else. The risk that the background check concept is addressing is really no different than if you meet someone at a bar, if you meet someone at school, if you meet someone at work. So we are working with background screenings, but we don’t promote it, we don’t advertise it. We do not want people having an undue sense of security.
There’s no 100 percent foolproof system. Our message continues to be that people need to be cautious when they meet somebody new. They shouldn’t treat somebody they meet on Match any differently than somebody they meet in a bar or at a church function.
CC: Do your friends ask you for dating advice?
CA: [Laughs] I’m old enough that most of my friends are married, and most of them got married before online dating came about. It is a complete mystery to them. One of our fastest-growing segments, ironically enough, is the 50 and older cohort. In some respects, meeting somebody online allows you to sort of vet out the knuckleheads earlier on, and actually allows you to be far more thoughtful—and, I think, even safer than showing up at a bar and just trying to meet somebody there. So I think the older folks are starting to understand it and be more comfortable with it.
CC: What has surprised you most about this job?
CA: I still am shocked by how many people, when I tell them that I work at Match.com, say, ‘Oh I met my wife’ or ‘I met my husband on Match.com.’ That happens far more than I ever would have expected. I think if you go back five or six years ago, there was a stigma around online dating. It was a place of last resort. And so people didn’t talk much about the fact that they met somebody on Match.com. Well, I think that stigma is being chipped away pretty rapidly. People are talking about it more openly.
CC: Big picture, what’s next on your agenda?
CA: I think the next step is branching out a little bit more into our non-U.S. operations. Not so much on the legal side, as much as it is in understanding how Brazilians deal with online dating compared to people in Mexico or people in France or people in Japan. The more you understand about how a culture views it, I think it’s easier to provide more effective legal advice, because a lot of the issues we deal with are very personal to people, they’re very emotional about it. I think we become more effective in both dealing with issues that pop up and advising people if we have a better understanding of how different cultures view relationships.
CC: What’s the most fun part of your job?
CA: The thing I like the most about it is that this is ecommerce. This is a fun place to be. Not necessarily online dating, but just ecommerce in general—the idea of doing business over the Internet. The law is undeveloped, underdeveloped, or non-existent in a lot of the areas that we deal in—and that’s a fun place to be a lawyer.