Dating site OKCupid admits to Facebook-style psychological testing on users
OKCupid, the popular dating site, has admitted to carrying out controversial Facebook-style psychological experiments on its users, saying it intentionally mismatched people to test its technology.
Christian Rudder, the company's founder, published a blog on Monday detailing three recent experiments they had performed that manipulated users' perceptions to test its matching algorithm.
They told people who were bad matches (30pc) that they actually had a compatibility score of 90pc.
Lying to users, it turned out, sometimes sparked meaningful online chats. Nearly one in five couples who were a 30pc match but were told they were a 90pc match wound up exchanging four messages or more — OkCupid’s measure for gauging romantic interest.
In the second test, it obscured profile pictures, while in the third the site hid profile text to see how it affected personality ratings.
The studies revealed that people received about the same personality score with or without accompanying text, meaning the majority of users judged people solely on their looks.
In the post, titled "We Experiment on Human Beings!" Mr Rudder explained the tests helped the company refine its product.
"When we tell people they are a good match, they act as if they are," he wrote in the post. "Even when they should be wrong for each other."
"Most ideas are bad," he wrote. "Even good ideas could be better. Experiments are how you sort all this out.
"We noticed recently that people didn't like it when Facebook 'experimented' with their news feed, but guess what everybody: If you use the Internet, you’re the subject of hundreds of experiments at any given time, on every site,” Christian Rudder, president of OKCupid, wrote on the company’s blog. “That’s how websites work.”
A spokeswoman said OkCupid, which has around 30 million users, planned to continue with the experiments, which are known in the business as A/B testing.
The experiment has drawn heavy criticism online. In a tweet, University of Pennsylvania computer scientist Matt Blaze suggested a few new clauses for online user licensing agreements: "We reserve the right to induce despair" and "You agree that there will be no love, except the love of Big Brother."
Experimenting on users without their consent could cost the company credibility, said Irina Raicu, director of the Internet ethics program at Santa Clara University.
"They are messing with emotions and with communications," she said. "That's different than other things we are A/B tested about."
In June, Facebook users were outraged when a study showed that the world's largest social networking site had manipulated the news feeds of 700,000 users to see how viewing more positive or negative posts affected users' posting habits. The researcher who led the study apologized for the anxiety the experiments caused but stopped short of saying the company would halt the practice.
OkCupid is one of the top US dating services, behind Match.com, eHarmony, and Plenty of Fish, according to the Pew Research Center.
"We use math to get you dates," the site's "About Us" section reads. "It's extremely accurate, as long as (a) you're honest, and (b) you know what you want."
Other experiments OkCupid has tried include a Love Is Blind Day in January 2013, when the company removed all photographs from the service for seven hours. Fewer people used the service, but a greater percentage of user messages drew responses.