Dating site OkCupid admits experimenting on users

OkCupid claimed that the tests helped refine the product. Picture: Screenshot
OkCupid claimed that the tests helped refine the product. Picture: Screenshot
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ONE of the world’s most popular dating websites has admitted setting people up with deliberately bad partners as part of a psychological experiment which it did not tell them about.

OkCupid said that it told users who had a 30 per cent match that they actually had 90 per cent compatibility.

The ploy worked and more people messaged potential partners if they thought they had a chance with the other person “even if they were wrong for each other”, OkCupid said.

It is not clear how many dates or relationships resulted from the meddling or how many of those couples are still together.

But OkCupid, which has around 30 million users worldwide, has been savaged online, with users claiming it has behaved like “Big Brother”.

Last month, Facebook admitted that it altered the news feeds of 700,000 users to see how much it could influence their mood in a study which sparked outrage online.

OkCupid’s test involved three parts, the first of which was lying about the compatibility score, which is worked out by the website’s internal algorithm.

With a 30 per cent match, 14 per cent of users sent one message to the other person and 9 per cent sent four or more, OkCupid’s definition of a possible romantic link. With a 90 per cent match, however, 16 per cent sent one message and 17 per cent sent four or more.

In the second test, OkCupid obscured profile ratings and in the final one it hid some of the text on people’s profiles.

The findings showed that people got about the same score from a potential suitor with or without the features, showing that people rely on looks more than anything.

In a post titled “We Experiment on Human Beings!” OkCupid’s president Christian Rudder explained that the tests helped the company refine its product.

He said: “When we tell people they are a good match, they act as if they are, even when they should be wrong for each other.

“Most ideas are bad. Even good ideas could be better. Experiments are how you sort all this out.”

Mr Rudder defended the failure to tell users and said that they needed to realise that when they logged on to the internet, they were the subject of hundreds of experiments every day.

He said: “That’s how websites work.”

Online reaction, however, was harsh and user Anne Cognito said: “So OkCupid have been putting ‘wrong’ people together – should I tell my boyfriend? We met through OKC.”

Ironically, OkCupid’s own terms and conditions say its algorithm is “extremely accurate, as long as (a) you’re honest, and (b) you know what you want”.

OkCupid is one of the UK’s leading dating websites and most of its services are free.

Users can subscribe to upgrade their membership for a fee, and options include browsing potential partners’ profiles invisibly and being able to perform an advanced search in relation to exactly what you want in a partner, in terms of his or her likes and dislikes and personal attributes.

The free option enables users to search and get in touch with potential partners and lets people rate users.

OkCupid was listed in Time magazine’s 2007 top-ten dating websites.