OKCupid Set You Up With A Loser Because That’s How Websites Work

Is the dating site is tinkering with fate?

Your boyfriend/girlfriend probably wouldn’t gleefully tell you that s/he has lied to you. But the site that helped you land your significant other apparently has no qualms cheerfully letting members know that it hasn’t been totally honest. OKCupid has reportedly been conducting tests on its users, which means that the perfect match currently texting you emojis of kittens could actually be a bust.

The dating site threw up a blog post this week titled, simply, “We Experiment On Human Beings!” In it, OKCupid co-founder Christian Rudder wrote: “I’m the first to admit it: we might be popular, we might create a lot of great relationships, we might blah blah blah. But OkCupid doesn’t really know what it’s doing. Neither does any other website.”

As if that assertion wasn’t “Whaaa?”-inducing enough, Rudder went on to state: “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.”

For those who haven’t been railing against their lack of online privacy lately on Twitter, Rudder is referring here to news that broke last month that Facebook experimented on a select group of users in 2012 for a week to determine if a preponderance of positive or negative posts affected their moods (they did).

OKCupid’s studies were similar — in that the site was seeking to see how user information affected other users. Some of the studies were rather candid — for one day the site nixed all pictures to see if more people would interact more abundantly and more deeply (they did). Others had to do with how people equate personality with physicality.

The study that’s riling people up, however, is the one in which they told bad matches that they were actually good matches — and visa versa. Matches, for those who are not single and possessing of cats, are calculated via a variety of factors, including a slew of questions dealing with everything from whether one thinks a nuclear holocaust would be terribly exciting to how often one masturbates. You know — all the stuff you talk about on first dates.

In this particular experiment, OKCupid found that the power of suggestion reigns supreme: Tell someone they’re perfect for someone else, and they’ll act as if they are. So that explains all the truly stellar dates I’ve been on lately. Or maybe that’s just my terrible taste in men.

Predictably, some users were more than a little miffed by this revelation. “You live in an insular world in which your users wishes, concerns and emotions are secondary (at best) to your profit. Nothing pierces that wall of arrogance,” one user wrote in the comments. “NOT COOL!!!,” another wrote, simply.

Others, however, found the data interesting, remarking, “I’m really happy to finally see something new posted in OkTrends! … The information here is interesting and useful. It doesn’t bother me.” Another wrote, “So glad to see the blog is back. Hope you will post more!”

Longtime users of OKCupid know that the site has always run experiments on its users. For one, it’s right there in its privacy policy: “We may use information that we collect about you to perform research and analysis about your use of, or interest in, our products, services, or content, or products, services or content offered by others.”

Secondly, the site’s OKTrends blog has, over the years, published several studies on its users — this post on “The Mathematics Of Beauty” is worth a read.

The idea that the service tinkered with fate, however, is likely to be the biggest issue for users. (Although I will point out that I’ve scratched my head several times in the past when perusing my 99% matches.)

And that’s an issue that goes beyond OKCupid — it goes to how we consume and interact with online service and what we expect from them in return. And in response to that issue I’ll leave you all with the following quote from Douglas Rushkoff from an interview with Mashable about the roles we play on free online services, in this instance, Facebook:

We are the product being delivered to those customers [marketers]. Do we get something in return? Sure. We get a certain kind of communications tool. We get a way of describing who we are to the rest of the world — in the terms that the marketers are paying for us to use. It’s not some weird conspiracy or anything. It’s just business. But if we’re not aware of the business, of what the tool is for, of the fact that Facebook’s job is to sell our social graphs to companies, and to get us experiencing ourselves in terms of our social graphs, then we are much more susceptible to changing the way we think of ourselves and our relationships.

What do you think? Weigh in in the comments below.