OkCupid toyed with users’ love lives

Reuters, AFP-JIJI

OkCupid — a top U.S. matchmaking website — intentionally mismatched users to test its technology, the IAC/InterActive Corp. service said on Monday, weeks after Facebook Inc. admitted to misleading users in a psychological study.

OkCupid co-founder Christian Rudder made a case for the practice in a blog post titled “We Experiment on Human Beings” which came on the heels of criticism of Facebook for tinkering with posts to see how it influenced users’ emotions.

“We noticed recently that people didn’t like it when Facebook ‘experimented’ with their news feed,” Rudder said.

“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.”

Rudder described how OkCupid hid profile text to find to how important words were compared to people’s pictures. It also told some incompatible people they were ideal matches to determine if the power of suggestion played into romantic equations.

OkCupid learned that words in profiles mattered little next to pictures, and that telling people they were fine matches ramped up the tendency for them to agree.

“When we tell people they are a good match, they act as if they are,” Rudder said.

“Even when they should be wrong for each other.”

Worried that the OkCupid algorithm might be to blame for seemingly contradictory outcomes, the matchmaking service tested telling some seemingly perfect pairings they were lousy fits.

It turned out those people were inclined to defy the power of suggestion and grow enamored of one another anyway, according to statistics posted at OkCupid.

Rudder maintained that there is much to figure out when it comes to matching people.

“OkCupid doesn’t really know what it’s doing,” he said.

“Neither does any other website. . . . Experiments are how you sort all this out.”

British authorities early this month revealed plans to investigate Facebook over an experiment which manipulated the feelings of users, as the social network apologized for its poor handling of the row.

News of the experiment caused outrage among Facebook users, with some calling it “super disturbing,” “evil” and “creepy.”

“Facebook secretly manipulated the users of the site, attempting to alter their emotions,” read a post in chat forum below the OkCupid blog post.

“All I can see here is honest curiosity and a desire to improve the site. Completely different things.”