A claim by online dating service eHarmony that it used a "scientifically proven matching system" has been banned in the UK after it could offer no evidence that customers had a significantly greater chance of finding lasting love.
A billboard ad for the website on a London Underground platform seen in July said: "Step aside, fate. It's time science had a go at love."
It went on: "Imagine being able to stack the odds of finding lasting love entirely in your favour. EHarmony's scientifically proven matching system decodes the mystery of compatibility and chemistry so you don't have to. Why leave the most important search of your life to chance?"
Lord Lipsey, who lodged the complaint that triggered the ruling and is also the joint chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Statistics and a former lay member of the UK's Advertising Standards Authority's (ASA) council, said: "Phrases like 'scientifically proven' should be confined to claims that are just that, not used in crude puffery designed to lure in those longing for love.
"This is a new form of fake news which the ASA has rightly slapped down."
The website said it used an algorithm based on scientific theories in the relationship literature of assortative mating that required users to complete lengthy questionnaires to determine their personality traits, values, interests and other factors.
Users were then matched to other individuals whose responses complemented their own preferences and matched a specific percentage of a list of personality factors that eHarmony determined to be vital in successfully matching people.
It said the algorithm was based on data collected from more than 50,000 married couples in 23 countries, resulting in statistical models which were associated with cut-off thresholds for scores that indicated a high probability of successful relationships if married.
The website submitted a granted patent for their algorithm to the ASA and also provided a copy of two published studies which it claimed reported higher levels of marital satisfaction for couples who met through eHarmony than any other offline or online source.
EHarmony believed consumers would interpret the ad to mean that its scientific approach could potentially work for them, and not that it would guarantee they would find lasting love or make connections.
The ASA said consumers would interpret the claim "scientifically proven matching system" to mean that scientific studies had found that the website offered users a significantly greater chance of finding lasting love than what could be achieved if they did not use the service.
It noted that neither of the studies provided by eHarmony revealed anything about the overall percentage of its users who had found lasting love after using the website compared to other sources.
Therefore, neither study provided insight into the likelihood of the website finding users lasting love compared to users who did not use the service.
The ASA said: "Because the evidence provided by eHarmony did not demonstrate that their matching system offered users a significantly greater chance of finding lasting love than what could be achieved if they didn't use the service, we concluded that the claim 'scientifically proven matching system' was misleading."
Romain Bertrand, managing director at eHarmony UK, said: "eHarmony was conceived on the premise that science and research could be harnessed to help people find love. For over 17 years, eharmony has been matching singles into high-quality, long-lasting relationships based upon sophisticated matching standards designed by PhD psychologists.
"Although we respectfully disagree with the ASA's findings, we are happy to work with them to assure that our advertising is as clear as possible."