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Friday, Sept. 19, 2014

First Facebook, now OKCupid: Is 2014 the year of creepy online experiments?

Compiled by Chandra Johnson, Deseret News National Edition

Published: Thu, July 31 5:10 a.m. MDT

 A popular YouTube contributor, Kate the Wasp, is walked through her first time using OKCupid.

A popular YouTube contributor, Kate the Wasp, is walked through her first time using OKCupid.

(via Screengrab)

Those familiar with the online dating world know that some relationship matches seem more spot-on than others. What once may've been chalked up to a glitch in a site's algorithm might actually have been an experiment, according to OKCupid.

On OKCupid's blog, OKTrends, writer Christian Rudder readily admitted that the site was experimenting on users without their knowledge or consent. The experiments ranged from matching incompatible people on purpose to omitting profile pictures and text from the site. Rudder also defended the site's actions.

"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," Rudder wrote in the post.

The frank admission from the site comes the month after Facebook was roundly criticized for manipulating algorithms to gauge user emotional response.

Some, like Kottke's Tim Carmody, shrug at the revelation that some websites conduct these social experiments, while others, like ReadWrite's Selena Larson, say there's a major distinction between what OKCupid did and what Facebook did in its experiments. He wrote that Facebook manipulated emotions and well-being, while OKCupid may have cajoled people into, at worst, unsatisfactory dates.

"OkCupid’s 'experiments,' were nothing more than A/B testing an algorithm, but the company didn’t present it in a neutral way," Larson wrote. "They compared their experiments to what Facebook did — the difference being OkCupid experiments didn't have the potential harm someone like Facebook's did."

But not everyone is amused.

"OKCupid homepage says 'Our matching algorithm helps you find the right people,'" user Justin Brookman tweeted. "Except when they deliberately show you the wrong people."

Huffington Post writer Dino Grandoni said OKCupid's cavalier attitude about its research may cost the service credibility.

"It's one thing to look at a bunch of anonymized data and draw conclusions from it," Grandoni concluded. "It feels like something else entirely when a dating site that sells itself on the power of its matching algorithm lies to some of its users about that very thing."

Email: chjohnson@deseretnews.com

Twitter: ChandraMJohnson

Related story:

Why Facebook has been experimenting on you behind your back

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