Age is just a number, right?
It is for hookup websites, according to a judge from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.
SexSearch.com is a website that encourages its users to arrange sexual encounters using its services. Members create profiles that are populated by information provided in a registration form, including the members' ages, and then they can browse other profiles and chat with other users.
An anonymous plaintiff, John Doe, sued SexSearch after he met a fellow user, Jane Roe, whose profile stated that she was born on June 15, 1987, which would have made her 18 at the time. Her profile also contained an authentic picture of her, and a statement that her ideal man was one with some staying power. Sounds great, right?
Well, the two soon met up at her house and consummated their internet flirtation, and that's where John Doe's troubles began.
After his house was surrounded by police and he was arrested, the plaintiff learned that Jane Roe was actually a 14 year-old girl. He was charged with felony statutory rape, which could ultimately result in a fifteen-year prison term and lifetime classification as a sex offender. Ouch.
Doe decided to sue SexSearch, and alleged numerous legal transgressions by the site, including fraud, negligent misrepresentation and breach of warranty. The court boiled Doe's charges down to two major themes: 1) "[d]efendants failed to discover Jane Roe lied about her age to join the website," and 2) "the contract terms are unconscionable."
SexSearch argued that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (ironic, no?) shielded it from liability for Doe's claims. Section 230 blocks suits against interactive computer services based on their publication of information provided by a third party.
Doe countered that SexSearch reserved the right to modify profiles that didn't meet the guidelines in place for profiles on the site, thus SexSearch was an information content provider and unable to benefit from Section 230's immunity clause.
The judge in the case sided with the defendant, granting SexSearch's motion to dismiss the case in a ruling entered last week.