OKCupid Admits To 'Creepy' Facebook-Style Psychological Testing On Users


Looking for love on the internet? Well tough, the internet only wants to proactively deceive you.

One of the world's most popular dating websites has revealed that it experimented on its users, including putting the "wrong" people together to see if they would connect. So if you went on a really awful date recently, that could be why.

While news of Facebook's emotion-manipulation study sparked public outrage and investigations from regulators last month, OkCupid has said we all need to get used to the fact that human experiments are the reality of using the Internet.

In a post called "We Experiment on Human Beings," the founder of the dating site took to OkCupid's blog Monday to defend using us all as human lab rats.

Christian Rudderwrote that he and his engineers sometimes play around with people's accounts to figure out the best way to build the site. In the past, Rudder wrote, that tweaking has included hiding profile text and telling pairs of people who might have made great matches that they weren't actually good for each other.

"We might be popular, we might create a lot of great relationships, we might blah blah blah," Rudder wrote.

"But OkCupid doesn’t really know what it’s doing. Neither does any other website. Experiments are how you sort all this out," he said.

"We noticed recently that people didn't like it when Facebook 'experimented' with their news feed," Rudder wrote. "Even the FTC is getting involved. But guess what, everybody: if you use the Internet, you're the subject of hundreds of experiments at any given time, on every site. That's how websites work."

Oh. Ok then.

Despite the breezy tone of Rudder's post, somewhat unsurprisingly, lots of people weren't very happy.

In one experiment, the site took pairs of "bad" matches between two people - about 30% - and told them they were "exceptionally good" for each other, or 90% matches. "Not surprisingly, the users sent more first messages when we said they were compatible," Christian Rudder, one of the founders of OKCupid, said in a blog post on the company's research and insights blog.

Further experiments suggested 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." The company later revealed the correct scores to the participants.

In another experiment, OKCupid ran profiles with pictures and no profile text for half of its test subjects, and vice versa for the rest. The results showed that people responded solely to the pictures. Because we are evidently all incredibly shallow. For potential daters, Mr Rudder said that "your actual words are worth… almost nothing".

The argument that Rudder is making on behalf of the rest of the tech industry is that websites need to do this sort of testing to build stuff we like. "Most ideas are bad," he wrote. "Even good ideas could be better. Experiments are how you sort all this out."

In June, Facebook published a bit of research that cast some light on its manipulative practices. In a university-approved experiment, the site tweaked some people's news feeds to figure out what would put them in a bad mood. The paper provoked a national conversation over the secret testing all large websites presumably do.

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