Popular dating site OkCupid disclosed this week that it has been messing with its users, including pairing up bad matches and telling them they’re compatible, just to see what will happen. Members recently received emails from the site, detailing how what they believed to be 90% matches were actually as low as 30%. Another experiment involved running profiles with pictures but no other content and vice versa to see which got the most attention.
In an OkTrends blog post entitled ‘We Experiment on Human Beings’, OkCupid Founder Christian Rudder attempted to justify their meddling by pointing out that for all their romantic data mining, a vast number of their users connect with people based on nothing but an attractive photo. “The ultimate question at OkCupid is, does this thing even work? By all our internal measures, the ‘match percentage’ we calculate for users is very good at predicting relationships… 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? Like how Jay-Z still sells albums?”
Rudder maintains that experiments such as this are a key component in building a website and improving the customer experience. “If you use the internet, you’re the subject of hundreds of experiments at any given time, on every site,” he says. “That’s just how websites work.” This excuse isn’t washing with everyone, especially coming so soon after the revelation that Facebook was monitoring and manipulating users’ news feeds without their knowledge in order to gauge emotional responses and posting behaviour.
Journalist Milo Yiannopoulos has gone so far as to describe the attitude of OkCupid and its founder as “brazenly sociopathic”, and says that part of the problem is that “they genuinely don’t know what they’ve done wrong.” Surprisingly though, only two OkCupid members have complained.
Rudder has stated before that he doesn’t believe algorithms alone hold the key to a successful love match. “We’ve found that the answers to some questions provide useful information, but if you just collect more data you don’t get high returns on it,” he told the BBC back in March. “Two people may have exactly the same iTunes history, but if one doesn’t like the other’s clothes or the way they look then there simply won’t be any future in that relationship.”