Facebook’s revelations last month about experiments it secretly performed on users have provoked thousands of outraged comments, investigations by members of Congress, and as many as a dozen people actually giving up the service. In response to the hubbub, Christian Rudder, co-founder of the popular online dating service OkCupid, has written a post for the site’s data analysis blog, OkTrends, in which he offers the wholly unapologetic admission that it’s been experimenting on users, too—including telling bad matches that they were compatible.
Cheekily titled ”We Experiment On Human Beings!”, the blog details three experiments the site has run over the last few years, with differing levels of user manipulation. In one, OkCupid hid every picture on the site for a day, to see what effect it had on users—causing fewer, deeper conversations, ending abruptly when the pictures were turned back on. In the second, it randomly hid the text of some users’ profiles, to see if those long lists of the six things you “can’t do without” actually matter to how anyone rates you. (Answer: Nope, everybody pretty much just looks at the pictures, anyway.)
But the third experiment involved more direct deception, with a small group of users being intentionally given false data about their match percentage, to see if telling people they were more compatible actually made them like each other more. As it turns out, it does, because we are all just biological robots with easily controlled responses.
Rudder’s response to people’s ethical concerns about experimentation by services like Facebook or OkCupid was surprisingly flippant.
“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. “
We’d make a comment about that, but we’re too busy manipulating your Disqus upvotes to see if it makes you post more often.