Tuesday, June 21, 2011

'BeautifulPeople.com' claims it booted 30,000 members for being 'too ugly;' smells like a PR stunt

A dating website named BeautifulPeople.com has apparently created free advertising for itself with what seems to be an April Fool's Day style stunt. The site, which only accepts members that pass an "attractiveness test" said it was attacked by a virus named "Shrek," which allowed 30,000 "ugly folks" to join, and it had to boot them all out.

14 days free 160x600BeautifulPeople.com requires applicants to pass a "rating stage," when existing members vote on whether the new applicants are "beautiful enough" to join the site. They say the virus took out that module.

In its press release, the company said,
"We got suspicious when tens of thousands of new members were accepted over a six-week period, many of whom were no oil painting.

"We responded immediately, repairing the damage from the 'Shrek Virus' and putting every new member back into the rating module for a legitimate and democratic vote. The result is that we have lost over 30,000 recent members.

"We have sincere regret for the unfortunate people who were wrongly admitted to the site and who believed, albeit for a short while, that they were beautiful. It must be a bitter pill to swallow, but better to have had a slice of heaven then never to have tasted it at all."
Does any of that sound like the way a company would respond if they were serious about the matter?

The Guardian appears to be among those fooled. It reported that Greg Hodge, managing director of BeautifulPeople.com said,
"I sent them all a very carefully worded email, trying to be as sensitive as possibly. But naturally many of them are finding it a bit of a sting to have been rated beautiful by their peers only to lose the accolade overnight."
Sad, if true, but security firm Sophos (and we) say: probably not. However, if in fact it was true, it was costly for the company. It added that it had paid out $112,500 in refunds to 4,500 of the 30,000 who had paid $25 a month for membership of the site. The others were reportedly still on their free trial period.

Match.com - View Photos of Singles FreeHowever, it seems more like a PR stunt than anything else. First, why would they issue a press release for this? Additionally, the comments made in the press release were not the type you might expect if the company was serious about the issue. Furthermore, how would a virus bring down their "rating module," and only that module?

Sophos points out some holes as well, saying:
The website explains that it hasn't needed to inform any computer security firms about the malware as it is being "investigated internally", and a "former employee.. placed the virus before leaving the team" and "despite wreaking havoc with the application process, member privacy and security was never breached." Phew! So, lots of publicity for the website but nothing for current or future members to worry about then. How convenient!
It's not the first stunt campaign BeautifulPeople.com has run. Earlier, it ran a campaign wherein a number of members who had let themselves go at Christmas had to re-apply. It was later admitted that it was simply a PR campaign designed to "provoke media attention with a controversial press release, to spark debate and enable the company founders to defend their brand and represent their core values, to attract more hits and applications, [and] to generate extensive global coverage."

That won them a "Best Global Campaign" award at the CIPR Awards in 2010, and it might win them one this time. The CIPR is the professional body for the UK public relations industry.

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