OPW INTERVIEW - Feb 18 - Germany has SPIN Kodex, a code for online dating sites that defines clear rules related to cancellations policy, recurring payments and privacy issues. UK has Online Dating Association (ODA) that gets standards in place. 13 UK internet dating companies are supporting the initiative now, including Match.com, eHarmony, FreeDating.co.uk, ChristianConnection.co.uk, DatingFactory and others. Here is our interview with George Kidd, the CEO of ODA.
What is ODA?
It’s a trade association for online dating businesses offering services to UK users. We work to set and maintain standards to protect users and to create a climate in which businesses can invest and innovate. We aim to inform and influence Government, regulators, the media and businesses on whom we have a reliance and close relationship.
Who are the founding members of ODA?
We had thirteen founders. This was an informal group of people who decided to take a lead in testing the case for an association and willing to put in the backing to get it off the ground. I am particularly grateful to Duncan Cunningham, our Chairman and his board; Jackie Elton, Karl Gregory, Julia Porter and Dan Winchester for their work.
How is it funded?
We have a hybrid funding model with a membership fee and a fixed payment for each site registered with ODA and carrying our logo and links.
We want to accommodate different business models including “white label”. We charge £50 per site alongside our core membership fee addressing the cost and complexity of dealing with a potentially very large and variable number of sites via the WL provider rather than each individual partner. But we do want to open membership to a broader set of those with interest and investment in the sector, including WL partners, IT, marketing, finance and other players.
What's your role and background George?
I had 20 years in Government, including time setting up the “Better Regulation Task Force and the Food Standards Agency. I worked on enforcement policy across Government and on deregulation drives in the leisure, employment and other sectors. I left over ten years ago to be CEO at PhonepayPlus, a telecoms content regulator.
I have been Chief Commissioner at the Direct Marketing Commission and Chair of UKPAC – the UK register of lobbyists. I have had non-exec board roles in legal services regulation and consulted for UK firms and an overseas government. I was British Consul in Chicago for four years promoting US investment in the UK.
Who's helping you?
eHarmony and Match and newer and niche sites like Muddy Matches, Lovestruck, Christian Connections and Would Like to Meet have helped with technical advice, media back-up, thoughts on funding models and ideas on what we and all members might be telling users when it comes to safe as well as enjoyable dating.
Leading white label firms have taken us through their customer service and support arrangements and they have coached us on the fraud issues.
What can you do for owners of iDating companies?
We want to be the eyes, ears and voice for the industry. We also want to play a role in developing and sharing best practice, as we have started to do with guidance on user safety. We will certainly be looking at what members say on subscriptions and renewal arrangements.
Do you function similarly to the BBB? How do you help users when they take issue with iDating sites performance?
The ODA has standards in its Code and we need to be sure these are being met. We would not want to get between companies and their users. ODA member has a duty to us and other members to have appropriate and effective arrangements in place for handling complaints.
Where can we find information on the code of conduct required by members?
On our website – www.onlinedatingassociation.org.uk. You can go direct to the Code at http://www.onlinedatingassociation.org.uk/membership/code.html.
The Code has some general rules:
- Be honest and clear in your communications
- Protect users
- Deliver what you promise to meet user needs
- Protect data and privacy
How much is the membership, and how does it work?
It is based on their revenue. We have had to think about how to deal with pure start-ups, including those who launch with a free model. We then had to think about the need for a cap at the top-end to recognise that even the very largest business will have limits on the support they can be asked to give.
The fee is far less than half of one percent of turnover. This puts funding between £1,250 and £6,000 for all but the very smallest and largest of businesses.