Dating website eHarmony has been banned from using an advertisement that claimed its service used science to help its users "stack the odds of finding lasting love."
The ad, placed in the London Underground in June 2017, featured the slogan "step aside, fate. It's time science had a go at love" which, according to a fresh ruling published Wednesday (3 January) by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), was "misleading."
The eHarmony service claimed it used a "scientifically proven" matching system which "decodes the mystery of compatibility and chemistry so you don't have to."
The complainant in the case was Lord Lipsey, joint chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Statistics.
Responding to the ruling, Lipsey said: "Phrases like 'scientifically proven' should be confined to claims that are just that, not used in crude puffery designed to lure in those longing for love. This is a new form of fake news which the ASA has rightly slapped down."
The dating website told the ASA that its definition of science was "based on or characterised by the methods or principles of science" and stressed that the advertisement was only likely to be interpreted by any viewers as a system that could "potentially work for them."
It said the billboards did not imply users would be guaranteed to find lasting love on the site.
In reality, it uses computer algorithms based on relationship questionnaires to analyse personality traits, values and interests. Users are then matched based on users with similar responses.
eHarmony revealed that the algorithm itself – which has been patented – was constructed using data collected from more than 50,000 married couples in 23 different countries, adding it was "based on scientific theories in the relationship literature of assortative mating."
The ASA was not convinced by attempts to claim the website had scientific backing, however.
It concluded: "We considered that consumers would interpret the claim [...] to mean that scientific studies had demonstrated that the website offered users a significantly greater chance of finding lasting love than what could be achieved if they didn't use the service.
"Because the evidence provided by eHarmony did not demonstrate that their matching system offered users a significantly greater chance of finding lasting love than what could be achieved if they didn't use the service, we concluded that the claim [...] was misleading."