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OKCupid Says They Experiment on Users Like Facebook, Defends the Practice

"Facebook likes this."

Screen Shot 2014-07-28 at 3.05.57 PM

Right now, advertisers are using data of what you do and don’t click to better target their campaigns, the sites you’re on are using metrics to figure out how to best get your interest and hold it, and OKCupid is experimenting on its users. How do we know? Because they just said so, and they’re going to keep doing it, because that’s how the Internet works.

That’s almost exactly what OKCupid co-founder Christian Rudder wrote in their blog post on the subject. On the recent outrage over Facebook’s experiments, he 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.”

And that’s the truth: The post breaks down several of the experiments they’ve performed on their users to fine-tune their service, and it’s not likely much different from any other online service you use. (They’re also pretty interesting and worth a read on their own.) While a scientific journal publishing Facebook’s results may be a completely separate ethical issue, it’s hardly a surprise that these sites are trying to improve themselves with tests on users.

Whether people are more OK with Cupid taking liberties with their data than they are with Facebook might be part of the issue. Setting people up with their perfect match has to work using statistics by its very nature, and it makes sense to refine them over time by seeing what works best.

Facebook users, on the other hand, probably feel more that their Facebook experience is their own personal space. (I can’t back that up with scientific data, but maybe Facebook has some I could borrow.) Even outside of intentional psychological experiments, one of the most annoying features of Facebook is that they keep trying to push a newsfeed that chooses what you see instead of just presenting you a timeline of every single post from everyone and everything you’re connected to.

But that’s basically the Internet, as Rudder pointed out. Sites are always running similar tests to see how they can perform best, and messing with the user experience is something inherent in the web. I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to do anything about it, but singling Facebook out probably won’t accomplish much when most free Internet services are based on selling everything about us.

(via The Verge, image via OKCupid)

Previously in Internet privacy outrage

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Dan Van Winkle (he) is an editor and manager who has been working in digital media since 2013, first at now-defunct Geekosystem (RIP), and then at The Mary Sue starting in 2014, specializing in gaming, science, and technology. Outside of his professional experience, he has been active in video game modding and development as a hobby for many years. He lives in North Carolina with Lisa Brown (his wife) and Liz Lemon (their dog), both of whom are the best, and you will regret challenging him at Smash Bros.