The obvious question: Why not seek out any of number of sites catering to your dating needs? Say, those targeted at gays and lesbians? Pasternak makes the distinction that eHarmony is not simply a niche singles' marketplace that allows people to browse and self-select at will, but a company selling a proprietary matchmaking method.
"They've spent tens of millions in advertising money saying that there's no one selling their matchmaking method," Pasternak says, "and when you're selling a service, you can't decide who you sell your service to."
Non-discrimination law covers sexual orientation in the state of California, but not in most other states. What then? And what about those banished for slightly fuzzier reasons?
Clay Shirky, from NYU's Interactive Telecommunication Program says the issue points to new questions that life on the web brings to light. Legality aside, he says "There's an issue of 'okay-ness,' and I think that's where the fight is to be fought."
Internet interactions mirror the real life friction society has always had between what is allowed, and what people find acceptable. "That problem of 'okay-ness' is probably centered around eHarmony's seemingly inclusive ad campaigns—and exclusive practices. Their advertising is pervasive in a way that other niche sites aren't," he explains. "It's kind of in your face with ads everywhere, and then you get there and find out it's behind some kind of velvet rope. That doesn't sit well with people."
Tango's Take: Just as it's taboo—but not illegal—to lie to a potential date about your age, marital status, or amount of remaining hair, a dating site should present itself honestly. If eHarmony has succeeded in crafting an algorithm that helps you weed out unsuitable partners, why not tout the fact that membership is quasi-exclusive?
The controversy here seems to lie in the gulf between perception and practice. eHarmony should be free to reject you or me, for just cause, but suggesting they've rolled out the red carpet to anyone looking to shake their single status is a bit misleading.