Dating website OKCupid has been doing a little social media manipulation, making tech fans recall when Facebook also performed some news feed manipulation in the name of research. OKCupid has revealed today that they have been matching up certain people deemed incompatible by their systems in order to test if they would connect.
“If you use the internet, you’re the subject of hundreds of experiments at any given time, on every site,” the site said. “That’s how websites work.”
Their experiment matched up people the site deemed 30% compatible, telling them they were in fact 90% compatible. Of course some smart users cottoned on and complained, but in the end the site concluded that “when we tell people they are a good match, they act as if they are. Even when they should be wrong for each other.”.
Another experiment had the site showing people’s profiles with just pictures and no words, and other users with words and no pictures. OKCupid reported that most users simply look at people’s profile pictures upon being matched, with the profiles showing just pictures faring better. Christian Rudder, one of the site’s founders admitted that “your actual words are worth… almost nothing”.
Christian also went on to defend the experiments as simply a part of the website building process. The previously mentioned uproar over Facebook’s recent news feed experiments most likely being the reason for the defensive stance. “It’s not like people have been building these things for very long, or you can go look up a blueprint or something,” he said. “Most ideas are bad. Even good ideas could be better. Experiments are how you sort all this out.”
Impressions from a legal standpoint seem negative, as Daniel Tozer, a commercial technology partner at the law firm Harbottle and Lewis, didn’t seem very impressed when asked about the practice by the BBC.
“This shows how easy it is for a company to put at risk the trust that users place in them,”
“There are data protection issues when you’re using users’ personal information, especially when it appears OKCupid are actually changing things on the page.”
“If you’re doing anything extremely unusual with people’s data, and I would argue this is the case here, it’s always best to seek the consent of your users first.”
For the average user, the experiments may have caused some disruption, and some even may feel like they might’ve missed the opportunity to meet that special someone due to the experiment. At the end of the day, no laws exist yet to prevent these experiments, and, like Christian Rudder said, they could already be going on without our knowledge.