Facebook received a lot of backlash when news came out that it had manipulated users' news feeds in order to experiment on them, and today OkCupid is responding with the admission that it too has run experiments on users. OkCupid isn't apologizing for it though — rather, it's arguing that experiments across the web are good and necessary. "Guess what, everybody: if you use the internet, you’re the subject of hundreds of experiments at any given time, on every site," site co-founder Christian Rudder writes in a new blog post. "That’s how websites work."
"That's how websites work."
Rudder goes on to detail three experiments that OkCupid has run, though two of them don't involve unknowing manipulation of its users. The final one does, however: in the experiment, the dating site began telling people who should have been bad matches for one another that they were actually good matches, and vise versa. In doing so, it found that just being told whether you're a good or a bad match for someone was enough to increase or decrease correspondence with them. It wasn't enough to fully offset the calculated compatibility between the two, but it did have a noticeable impact.
OkCupid has a history of breaking down user data and various other interesting trends that it's identified throughout its wealth of data, so its blog post today isn't entirely out of the ordinary. Its tone is somewhat surprising, though, given the heated opinions around Facebook's experiments. OkCupid does note that it informed users after the fact that they were part of the experiment, but it doesn't sound as though users were made aware of their participation beforehand. Rudder's argument is much the same as Facebook's — that experiments help the company better develop and understand its product — but, as we've seen, that's still a potentially troubling thought for people who rely on the service.