OKCupid admits it manipulated feeds for experiments
UPDATE (July 30): A spokesperson from the office of the federal privacy commissioner confirmed to Global News that they are aware of the recent revelations by OKCupid.
“The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada is aware of this matter, which appears to raise similar privacy issues to those now being considered with respect to Facebook’s activities,” said the spokesperson in an email.
The spokesperson could not comment on whether the commissioner will take any action in this case.
TORONTO – Popular dating site OKCupid has come to Facebook’s defence, admitting it too has manipulated user feeds to experiment on people.
The revelation came just one month after Facebook came under fierce criticism for conducting a psychological experiment on nearly 700,000 users without their knowledge.
OKCupid founder Christian Rudder revealed in a company blog post Monday that the company often runs experiments on unknowing users – in some cases manipulating people’s “matches” to say they weren’t a good fit, even if the site’s algorithm said the two users were a perfect match.
“We noticed recently that people didn’t like it when Facebook “experimented” with their news feed. Even the FTC is getting involved,” wrote Rudder.
“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.”
The blog post goes on to explain in detail some of the “more interesting” – in Rudder’s word – experiments the website has conducted on users.
Two of the experiments mentioned involved messing with users’ photos (arguably one of the most important aspects of an online dating profile).
In January 2013 the site set up the “Love is Blind Day” experiment, which involved removing all users’ photos to see how it would affect exchanges. Unsurprisingly, the site saw a decrease in traffic that day, but users had better experiences overall.
According to the blog, people responded to first messages 44 per cent more often than they did when there was a profile picture visible and contact details were exchanged more quickly.
The second photo-based experiment looked at how users scored each other based on looks and personality.
Developers hid text from users’ profile pages to see if they would be rated just on their looks. The study found that text contributed less than 10 per cent towards how profiles were rated.
While the first two experiments may not seem as controversial as Facebook’s emotion manipulation study, the final experiment mentioned by Rudder has many users up in arms.
The site changed its match algorithm to match users who would have otherwise been considered a bad match for each other.
This experiment found that users who were told they were highly compatible were more likely to interact, even if they were considered a bad match by the site’s algorithm.
Rudder defended the experiment by suggesting it helped the company to rethink its match strategy – making more compatible couples and more happy customers.
“The ultimate question at OkCupid is, does this thing even work,” said Rudder.
“But in the back of our minds, there’s always been the possibility: maybe it works just because we tell people it does. Maybe people just like each other because they think they’re supposed to?”
But some users are still outraged by the experiments.
The announcement was a bold move on OKCupid’s part – especially as Facebook is now under investigation by government bodies over its emotion study.
The office of Canada’s privacy commissioner has said they will press Facebook for more information related to the study, alongside British, French and U.S. regulators.
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