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OKCupid Also Conducting Creepy Experiments on Users

The giant free dating site says it experiments on users without their knowledge, and offers no apologies.

OKCupid, one of the Internet’s most popular dating sites, says it's running social experiments on its users without their knowledge. Moreover, the CEO of the site is unapologetic for doing so.

Yesterday, OKCupid published findings from the experiments it conducted. Among other things, it found that dissimilar users were more attracted to each other when they’re told they’re a good match, and that photographs make a huge difference in how appealing a user is to others.

While those findings might not be surprising, OKCupid’s methods might be. It revealed that it manipulated profiles to conduct its studies. It says it obscured profile pictures, hid user profile text, and manipulated how well users matched up with each other, indicating better or worse percentage scores than its mathematical formulas actually found. In essence, OKCupid admittedly used its site as a huge behavioral and social science laboratory. And according to The New York Times, they often did this without telling users they were conducting experiments on them.

In a blog post entitled, “We Experiment on Human Beings,” OKCupid’s President, Christian Rudder, justified the company’s social experimentation: “We noticed recently that people didn’t like it when Facebook ‘experimented’ with their news feed. 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.” he wrote on the company’s blog, OKTrends. Rudder went on to show the results of the three experiments it conducted.

A few months back, Facebook faced public outrage and legal inquiries after it was revealed that it manipulated the news feeds of nearly 700,000 users to study "emotional contagion" on social networks. The Goliath social media site altered the feeds to see if reading positive and negative status updates would affect the emotions of users that viewed them.

OKCupid is a free dating site that features member-created quizzes and multiple-choice questions that feed into a mathematical algorithm that rates the compatibility between users. The site has an estimated 3-4 million active users.

OkCupid's famous algorithm indicates — on a scale of 0-to-100% — how users match up with each other. However, in one experiment, the score was secretly altered and users were shown that some other users had a high “compatibility score” instead of a low one.

The result was that users were more likely to contact the other user whose score was manipulated. Furthermore, it found that those who believed they were corresponding with a good match were nearly twice as likely to send at least four messages compared with people who were told they were a low match.

Only a small percentage of users saw these changed scores, according to OKCupid, and they were not informed of the manipulation at the beginning of the test. It wasn’t until the experiment concluded that OKCupid sent messages to users indicating the actual compatibility scores.

However, OKCupid may not be in legal jeopardy over its covert social science experimentation. Its user agreement tells those registering with the site that their data can be used for research and analytical purposes.

Back in 2010, it was revealed that OKCupid was hiding good-looking users from those it deemed unattractive.

The Consumerist blog published a message the dating site sent to members it found attractive. The message reads:

We are very pleased to report that you are in the top half of OkCupid's most attractive users. The scales recently tipped in your favor, and we thought you'd like to know...

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