Internet Law

Could fake profiles on dating sites be illegal under Computer Fraud and Abuse Act?

Amy Webb thought she knew what she wanted in a man and created 10 separate JDate profiles for him, collecting female responses to determine what her competition was. She wrote a book, Data, A Love Story, detailing her findings.

But Techdirt founder Mike Masnick wonders if Webb committed multiple felonies under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act by violating JDate’s terms of service agreement. He notes that JDate requires users to provide accurate information about themselves, and impersonating others is restricted.

Masnick emphasizes that it’s highly unlikely that Webb would face federal prosecution. But the scenario does call attention to the CFAA’s problems, he writes. Like the late Aaron Swartz, who in January committed suicide while being federally prosecuted for downloading JSTOR articles, Webb intentionally exceeded authorized access in her research.

“If we can make the case that the value of the information she obtained by data mining these fake profiles exceeded $5,000 in value, then she has possibly set herself up for felony charges—with maximum imprisonment of five years,” he writes. “Would a court ever go that far? Almost certainly not. But given the lack of prosecutorial discretion we’ve seen in other cases, including many CFAA cases, is that something that really should be left to the prosecutors’ and judges’ discretion? Hopefully not.”

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