OkCupid’s Human Experiments Are Way Creepier Than Facebook’s

And one experiment basically discredits the matching algorithm.

OkCupid’s Human Experiments Are Way Creepier Than Facebook’s
[Image: Flickr user Paul Townsend]

Online dating site OkCupid is laughing in the face of Facebook’s human experimentation scandal, lauding its own such efforts today in a blog post on OkTrends. The post, titled “We Experimented on Human Beings!” reminds us that “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.” Then it proceeds to brag about messing with people’s emotions for the sake of science.


OkCupid performed three studies on its users, without telling them, the results of which range from depressing to obvious. One called “Love Is Blind, Or Should Be” found out that–shocker!–people are shallow. Users planting the seeds of love via perfectly productive conversations with faceless potential lovers stopped talking to one other once OkCupid restored pictures to the accounts that had been “blind.” (This is the scientific basis of Tinder’s popularity.)

In another, “The Power of Suggestion,” OkCupid finds that the company’s algorithm doesn’t work. People with high matches tend to have conversations (and therefore go on dates) with each other, which makes sense. You’re more likely to respond to someone with 90% compatibility. But that’s not because OkCupid’s questionnaire has discovered the secrets of matchmaking. It’s because people will talk to people that OkCupid has deemed a high match.

“We took pairs of bad matches (actual 30% match) and told them they were exceptionally good for each other (displaying a 90% match),” OkCupid’s Christian Rudder explains. “When we tell people they are a good match, they act as if they are. Even when they should be wrong for each other.”

Of course, anyone who has ever used OkCupid knows it’s a numbers game. Match percentages simply offer a filtering mechanism. Again: This isn’t particularly shocking. It is, however, somewhat surprising that The Cupes is being so forthcoming about something some people might deem unethical.

It should be noted that OkTrends, which was on a three-year hiatus until this post, was once an incredibly popular company blog with hits like “The Real Stuff White People Like” and “The Best Questions for a First Date.” OkCupid has always had a cavalier attitude about experimenting on users, and nobody seemed to care.

About the author

Rebecca Greenfield is a former Fast Company staff writer. She was previously a staff writer at The Atlantic Wire, where she focused on technology news.