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Match.com's Criss-Crossed Lovers

By Frank Ahrens
Sunday, October 9, 2005

Internet dating can be scary. You agree to meet complete strangers based on blurry headshots, puffed-up self-descriptions and furtive e-mail exchanges. The guy who said his body type is "about average" shows up with a body type that is "about average" in a crowd of baby hippos. The girl who said she "loves reading" turns out to "love reading" only "Star Wars" novelizations.

Well, something really scary happened last week at Match.com, the popular Web site where lonely hearts post profiles and pictures and get entered into a database searchable by geography, religion, height, pet preference, body art and so forth.

Owing to a glitch, profiles and preferences for many members temporarily were shuffled for several days. Or "criss-crossed," the company told one irritated user, a Tom from Northern Virginia, whose identity we protect because we're stand-up guys. (Match.com does not post users' real names. It's up to individuals to release names to prospective dates. Seems fair to do the same here.)

For several days, Tom's profile page sported his picture with a headline identifying him as a "funny girl." (You -- stop laughing!) Also, Match.com wiped out half of his profile, which he put more than a little effort into writing. Tom said the same thing happened to several of his friends who use Match.com.

Tom said the glitch was remedied only after several calls to the site, which -- like the Ask Jeeves search engine, the Home Shopping Network and several online businesses -- is owned by IAC/InterActiveCorp, headed by Barry Diller, a Washington Post Co. director.

The error came at a bad time for Tom: He had just sent e-mails to a few women he was interested in. "They probably thought I was an idiot if they'd read my [criss-crossed] profile," he said. Tom had to take down his profile and completely rewrite and post it. To salve the wound, Tom said Match.com offered to kick his profile up to the front of the queue.

Thanks. Thanks a bunch.

On Friday, Match.com spokeswoman Kristin Kelly said the "unprecedented" problem affected about 10,000 of its 15 million users and that an explanatory e-mail (that offered seven free days as remuneration) was sent out, though Tom said he didn't get one. (Note to Tom: Call. Get your seven free days.)

We suggest this new headline for Tom's page: "Justifiably Angry Man Seeks Correct Profile."

Sex and Dirty Words

After receiving more than 1 million complaints about objectionable radio and television programming last year, the Federal Communications Commission has come to the realization that there may be some interest about racy shows on the airwaves.

To that end, the agency on Friday launched a new indecency, profanity and obscenity section on its Web site. (Simmer down.)

Outraged or merely interested listeners and viewers can go to http://www.fcc.gov/eb/oip/Welcome.html . There, they will be tutored on the difference between obscene, profane and indecent content; told how to file a complaint, find out who handles it at the agency; and see what happens to the complaint, depicted in a flow chart that would make a string theorist's brain explode. (Actually, it looks more like a whiteboard pitch from the dot-com era for a start-up called Zipperhead.com or something.)

This is a good move by the FCC because the agency's regulations on indecency are murky at best to outsiders and tough to interpret even for the agency itself. Also, in recent years, the complaint process has been dominated by interest groups such as the sober-minded Parents Television Council, which has a "file an FCC complaint" function on its Web site. PTC members flooded the FCC with hundreds of thousands of complaints in 2004. That's fine -- it's the new electronic democracy -- but viewers and listeners who are not ideologically aligned with such interest groups may not want to file their complaint through partisan Web sites.

The new pages sport a smattering of statistics. For instance: In 2004, the agency received 1,405,419 complaints about 314 programs. Through June of this year, viewers and listeners have filed 163,177 complaints about 528 programs. A facile read on the data suggests fewer people are offended this year than last but that more programs are offensive.

I'll tell you what's offensive on television: When ABC ends "Lost" at 10:05 p.m. on Wednesday nights so the next show (in this case, "Invasion") will get a portion of "Lost's" monster Nielsen ratings. Why is this offensive? Because my DVR stops recording "Lost" at 10 p.m. and each show invariably ends with a jaw-dropping cliff-hanger. Yes, yes, I now know I must extend the recording time. Lesson learned.

Still, talk about grounds for an FCC fine.

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