Thursday, July 31, 2014

Another tech company plays with its users

First it was Facebook. Now it's OKCupid that has confessed to conducting secret experiments on its users.
One experiment linked users up with people who were deemed a bad match — a 30 percent compatibility rate based on OKCupid’s algorithm. OKCupid labeled these bad matches as being 90 percent compatible to see if people could “like” each other even if they had nothing in common.
Again, a tech company changed how it selected its deliverables. Again, the public is pissed.

OKCupid showed even less concern for its users than Facebook. Facebook filtered out some of the information it ordinarily would have shared, but it didn't provide false information. OKCupid subverted its core functionality: it gave outright false results.

OKCupid asked a valid question, but it pursued an ethically indefensible strategy to find the answer. There are protocols to follow when you experiment on human subjects. Reputable scientists know about these protocols. Are there any reputable scientists at OKCupid? It doesn't seem so.

The obvious followup question: is OKCupid a trustworthy company?

Well, it came clean: give it credit for that. But its post-facto confession doesn't excuse its deceit. The confession doesn't make up for whatever fallout resulted from its tampering.

What OKCupid traffics in isn't maintaining old relationships, but creating new ones, one of the most deeply personal areas of anyone's life. Sure, the end user ultimately decides whether a relationship is viable. However, just because you're ultimately responsible for spitting poison out before you ingest it, doesn't mean you want food companies to disguise garbage as edible food. That's what OKCupid did.

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