business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

The Chicago Tribune reports on how the online dating site OKCupid actually experimented with its customers' profiles as a way of testing its algorithms and making sure they actually worked. Among its tactics was the deliberate suggestion of bad matches to make sure it really understood what factors went into good matches, and to see how people would behave.

"We wanted to make sure fundamentally the thing our site is based on actually worked,” company co-founder Christian Rudder said this week at an event in Chicago, noting that "various patterns go into match-making," including "common interests, mutual recent breakups and the idea that opposites attract." Rudder said that nobody complained about the experimentation ... though, of course, they did not actually know that they were being experimented on.

Rudder also said this week that "the site since 2011 has provided data to universities for their research projects." Among that information: "women on the site were attracted to men their own age while men ages 20 to 50 generally were attracted to 20-somethings."

To be completely transparent about this, I have to concede that I'm a little out of touch with the whole dating scene. After all, I haven't gone out on a first date with anyone since 1979. (Wow. That's an Eye-Opener...)

But I do think that the story and Rudder's admissions point out how careful companies should be with the data of their customers. We're in a data-driven culture, but I think even 50 year-old guys who are happy to provide their own data if it will help them meet available 25 year-old women might have a problem with having their data manipulated so the company can figure out whether its own algorithms are viable ... and worth charging for ... even though they're already charging for it.

I'm not saying it is necessarily wrong. I am saying that companies have to be careful, lest they be proven to be untrustworthy.

(By the way ... I know I am not in my fifties anymore, but it wasn't that long ago, and I cannot even imagine what I'd talk to a 25-year-old woman about if we were out on a date. Of course, that wouldn't be a problem, because there aren't enough algorithms on the planet to get a 25-year-old woman on the planet to even consider going out with me...)
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