With the furor over Facebook’s psychological experiment still dying down, dating site OkCupid yesterday responded to the brouhaha by bragging about its own past experiments, as well as telling everyone to expect it and accept it.
“Guess what, everybody: if you use the internet, you’re the subject of hundreds of experiments at any given time, on every site,” states the site’s co-founder Christian Rudder, “that’s how websites work”. But most shocking is the tone of his revelations, which clearly highlights the thin line in social media between ethics and company growth. Sure, experiments help companies to understand their users and develop their product, but the trickery and deceit behind their investigations surely needs addressing? Carrying out psychological tests on unwitting users should generate concern, not a shrug of the shoulders as you click onto another tab. Desensitized to stories about our personal details being part of a public garage sale, nowadays people merely presume their data will be used and manipulated - the most worrying realisation of all. Why bother signing up for a dating site if everything shown to you is a social experiment disgused as a potential partner? Why sign into Facebook to see what your friends are up to if Facebook is going to only show you what it wants you to see anyway? Freedom is what brings us all to the Internet in the first place, so take it away, and all that's left is an algorithm.
Remember what your parents used to tell you: Just because everybody else is doing it, it doesn’t make it right. Just like Facebook (and many other sites), OkCupid lied to users about how compatible they were with other people to see how it affected whether they began a chat with matches or not, telling pairs that were 90% suited that their statistics were in fact just 30% and vice versa. Yes it’s useful, but is all this deceit necessary? If the researchers had simply just asked users for their responses (isn’t that how most things work these days anyway?), most people would have been happy to share a response more personal and insightful than any graph could give. And if there's anything else our parents taught us, it's that hiding behind a computer screen is never the key to success. Oh, and to always eat our vegetables.
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