PSA: Lying on Your Online Dating Profile Might Be a Federal Crime

What Women Really Think
July 19 2013 6:00 PM

Sorry, but Lying on Your Online Dating Profile Might Be a Federal Crime

"I don't smoke and thick hair runs in my family."

Photo by David Gannon/AFP/Getty Images

Oh dear. Thanks to a nonsensical 1984 anti-hacking law, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, it may be a federal crime to lie on your online dating profile (not to mention Facebook). As Mother Jones explains in its list of "absurdly outdated Internet laws," the extremely baggy legislation prohibits “knowingly accessing a computer without authorization” and culling information from “a protected computer.” The thing is, “computer” is very loosely defined—as Tim Wu writes in The New Yorker, the Justice Department has interpreted it to mean “just about any Web site.” (Wu was not writing about your OKCupid profile but rather the terrible consequences the law had on Aaron Swartz.) And how do you get “authorization” to access a website? By agreeing to its terms of service, which you probably didn’t read. Oops! You should read that stuff.

Katy Waldman Katy Waldman

Katy Waldman is a Slate staff writer. 

For instance, from the Facebook fine print:

You will not provide any false personal information on Facebook, or create an account for anyone other than yourself without permission.

Terrible news for the wiseacre who filled out a personal Facebook profile for crunchy, delicious Bakeshop Granola. They’re coming for you, Bakeshop Granola! (Go quietly. It’s only 25 years.) Also:  

You will not use Facebook to do anything unlawful, misleading, malicious, or discriminatory.

Gosh, I wish I’d known misleading people on Facebook was a federal crime before I “liked” a photo my friend posted of her cat drinking lemonade out of a mug. I didn’t actually like that, and the “adorable” I typed into the comment box is an overstatement. (Please don’t prosecute.) And does it count as “malicious” to pointedly ignore certain friend requests from certain people for certain reasons that—let’s face it—the NSA already knows all about? Actually, whatever, I have never seen that laptop before in my life.

Before you flee Facebook for an online dating website, you may want to check out eHarmony’s terms of service:

By requesting to use, registering to use, or using the Singles Service, you represent and warrant that you are not married. If you are separated, but not yet legally divorced, you may not request to use, register to use, or use the Singles Service … You will not provide inaccurate, misleading or false information to eHarmony or to any other user.

So if you, eHarmony user, falsely represent yourself as a natural blonde, or 10 pounds lighter, or a “connoisseur of fine art” when you secretly think All Art Looks The Same, you are in violation of federal law and have the right to remain silent—which is what you should have done in the first place, instead of posting some crap about how you speak Cantonese.

A propos: A member of the Slate staff went on a date recently with a man who professed, in his online dating profile, to be several inches taller than he was. When I told her what I was writing about, a glint of satisfaction flashed in her eye. And yet, on some level, doesn’t the Internet exist so that people can present glamorized, rosy-hued, mostly untruthful versions of themselves? Scrub the Web clean of lies and what’s left? Banality, rudeness, and far fewer urban twentysomethings on OKCupid who claim to love Gravity’s Rainbow. (OK, maybe that last one is a good thing.)

I’m comforted by the fact that the FBI has proven fairly lax so far about enforcing the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Still, my not-too-trendy-but-just-indie-enough taste in music and I just might skip town for a while.


Medical Examiner

Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola

Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.

It’s Legal for Obama to Bomb Syria Because He Says It Is

Divestment Is Fine but Mostly Symbolic. There’s a Better Way for Universities to Fight Climate Change.

I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Even though I know I’m going to get flak for it.

It Is Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

Why Are Lighter-Skinned Latinos and Asians More Likely to Vote Republican?

How Ted Cruz and Scott Brown Misunderstand What It Means to Be an American Citizen

  News & Politics
Sept. 23 2014 12:43 PM Occupy Wall Street How can Hillary Clinton be both a limousine liberal and a Saul Alinsky radical?
Sept. 23 2014 2:08 PM Home Depot’s Former Head of Security Had a Legacy of Sabotage
Sept. 23 2014 1:57 PM Would A Second Sarkozy Presidency End Marriage Equality in France?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 2:32 PM Politico Asks: Why Is Gabby Giffords So “Ruthless” on Gun Control?
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 2:31 PM 3 Simpsons Showrunners Reflect on New Fans and the “Classic Era” Myth
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 1:50 PM Oh, the Futility! Frogs Try to Catch Worms Off of an iPhone Video.
  Health & Science
Sept. 23 2014 1:38 PM Why Is Fall Red in America but Yellow in Europe? A possible explanation, 35 million years in the making.
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.