A couple of days ago I blogged about the lawsuit filed against match.com, the online dating site, alleging that the site used employees as "date bait". This story seems to have exploded onto the web with google showing 94,000 results to the search string "match.com lawsuit".The AFP News site is one of many that outlines the case: Matthew Evans, a match.com customer, had a few dates with Autumn Marzec (incidently, "Marzec" is the Polish for the month of March… and perhaps a surname). Evans alleges that, after a few dates, Marzec confessed to being a match.com employee. If nothing else this is bad practice and something that smaller players in the online dating industry are known to do but not something, according to Mark Brooks at Online Personals Watch, that the top ten dating sites have been known to get involved in. [Please note: these are simply allegations and haven't been proven in any court - match.com may very well be innocent and there are people blogging to that affect.]
In Marzec’s defense, how many of us, were we single and working for an online dating website, would have used our employers service to get dates? I’m betting quite a few of us. But the lawsuit alleges that, rather than simply dating members in the same way as a health club instructor might date his or her trainees or a night club bouncer might take someone home at the end of the night, employees were actually SENT on dates with customers – something totally different. When I read the accounts of what had happened, I started to wonder how they did this. Did the employees simply set up an account, using their own name and details but omitting the fact that they worked for match.com? Were they given aliases or asked to create aliases? [Some news sites are even reporting that the people sent on dates were actually hired for that purpose. Match.com denies these claims.] Curiousity got the best of me and I found myself googling for "Autumn Marzec", just as many users of online dating websites would have done had they encountered her online.
It wasn’t long, on the first page of results in fact, before I found this post on a Yahoo Group about Volleyball in Southern California. One click away from that page and you’ll find a photo to go with the profile (age: 24, occupation: dance instructor since you asked) of the user. Could one of the two women in the photo to the left be the same "dark-haired, buxom twentysomething Autumn Marzec" that went on a date with Matthew Evans? The email I found using google was sent on Mar 11, 2004 so it would seem that, if the post and photo are part of a deliberate attempt to build an online identity then this started at least that long ago. It might be that, as I suggested above, Marzec was simply a dating website employee taking advantage of the easy ability to meet men through the service and, let’s face it, if you work for a dating website you wouldn’t go pay to use a competitors service. Or Marzec may have posted this profile innocently for personal use. Of course, it could be a photo of a totally innocent Autumn Marzec, or person of another name, who has never worked for match.com or any other online dating agency.
I have no answers to these and other questions but it does seem to me that, if Marzec is really a match.com employee and isn’t, or wasn’t in 2004, a dance instructor, that the whole purpose of this profile has something to do with creating an online identity – perhaps just for fun and perhaps for online dating. Anyone who has ever used an online dating site knows that users can and do check each other out by googling the names, usernames, and email addresses of people they meet online. Anyone that Marzec would have met online at match.com (or elsewhere) is likely to have found, like I did, this yahoo profile. The yahoo profile clearly doesn’t say anything about working for an online dating site…
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—— update 22 November 19:09 ——
All the evidence at my disposal yesterday seemed to verify that the yahoo profile I found, and the photo I posted above, were those of the same Autumn Marzec identified by Matthew Evans, the claimant in the match.com lawsuit. To verify this I emailed the person holding the Yahoo account, who at the moment I sent the email was shown as being online. I also emailed the claimant’s legal representatives who have confirmed that:
* the woman depicted in the photo posted here on cybersoc.com is the same woman who appeared in photos on the match.com profile of "Autumn Marzec"
* a search of public records confirm that a woman of this name lives in West Hollywood, which is the same area given in the email I found posted to a publicly accessible Yahoo group and which is also consistent with information given to Evans by the woman who identified herself as Autumn Marzec.
I don’t think there is much hope in Marzec, or whoever posted a profile with her photo on it, responding to my request for an interview. I’d like to know more about what happened but, with a lawsuit looming, and the rights to a ‘made for television movie’ likely to be on the minds of many, it seems unlikely that she’ll respond.
—– 23 November —–
Match.com have hit back by demanding that the case against them is dropped: "The woman named in the lawsuit as a Match.com employee has confirmed in a sworn statement that she has never been an employee of Match.com, nor was she ever paid to go on dates with any members or subscribers."
—– 24 November ——
Gelf Magazine has, as well as an excellent article about this story and a .pdf of the allegations against match.com, a copy of the above mentioned sworn statement from Autumn Marzec.