CORRECTED-OkCupid experiment may violate FTC rules on deceptive practices

Wed Jul 30, 2014 11:18am EDT

(Corrects in paragraph 9 to show all users affected by the OkCupid experiment were notified after the test)

By Casey Sullivan

July 29 (Reuters) - OkCupid's disclosure that the popular dating website intentionally misled couples about their suitability could open it up to a U.S. Federal Trade Commission inquiry, according to lawyers and experts in consumer-protection law.

On Monday, President Christian Rudder disclosed in a blog post that OkCupid had conducted experiments on its users, including a test to see whether its assessment of their matchability led to successful dating.

"To test this, we took pairs of bad matches ... and told them they were exceptionally good for each other," Rudder wrote. "When we tell people they are a good match, they act as if they are. Even when they should be wrong for each other."

OkCupid's actions, at least four legal experts said, appear to be in violation of a provision in the FTC act that prohibits "unfair and deceptive" practices by a company that result in misleading or harming consumers.

"When you're matching people up with individuals who are not good matches, that would certainly be deceptive," said Jesse Brody of law firm Manatt Phelps & Phillips.

Other legal experts said it would be difficult to prove deception.

"From a consumer-protection perspective it can be argued that the 'experiment' was an effort to ensure and confirm the efficacy of the service," said Robert deBrauwere of Pryor Cashman.

Rudder said in a statement to Reuters on Tuesday that more than 1 million people had logged on to OkCupid since he wrote about the experiment, and that the website had received fewer than 10 complaints.

He did not respond to a question about whether anyone had threatened to sue. The "handful" of users subjected to the experiment were notified at its conclusion, he said. This type of "diagnostic research" is permitted by the site's terms of service, Rudder added.

OkCupid's privacy policy says, among other things, "We may use information that we collect about you to perform research and analysis about your use of, or interest in, our products, services, or content ..."

William McGeveran, a law professor at University of Minnesota Law School, said giving wrong information to customers could have legal ramifications. "The FTC has been more aggressively (seeking enforcement) over information handling."

An FTC spokeswoman, Mary Engle, declined to discuss whether the agency was investigating OkCupid, a free website with some paid premium services. The service is owned by IAC/InterActive Corp.

Engle said that when the FTC considered which cases to investigate, it looked at whether there was harm in the deception. The agency was most likely to probe practices that caused economic or health injuries.

"If it's completely free, it's not clear what the consumer injury would be," Engle said.

(Reporting by Casey Sullivan in New York; Additional reporting by Diane Bartz in Washington DC; Editing by Ted Botha and Prudence Crowther)

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Comments (3)
Euphrosyne wrote:
Close them down!

This is a definitive abuse of the private rights of those needy enough to use such a service and a violation of their political rights totally.

Jul 29, 2014 12:01am EDT  --  Report as abuse
FerArdenghi wrote:
I live in a South American country and I am really astonished to see how online daters in “1st World” countries are really victims of human experimentation. No actual online dating site is “scientifically proven” because no one can prove its matching algorithm can match prospective partners who will have more stable and satisfying relationships -and very low divorce rates- than couples matched by chance, astrological destiny, personal preferences, searching on one’s own, or other technique as the control group in a peer reviewed Scientific Paper for the majority (over 90%) of its members.

The Online Dating Industry is selling elixirs, tonics, snake oil liniments and other patent medicine and performing like the Pharmaceutical and Cosmetic Industry before the USA Food and Drug Administration was created where any player can make any claim without any credentials.

Lack Of Innovation & Decadence can summarize the Online Dating Industry for years.
The key to long-lasting romance is STRICT PERSONALITY SIMILARITY.
C-Level executives are more worried about their golf scores than their company’s long term strategy and C-level executives are cooking barbecues under the water (selling smoke) and not paying attention to latest research from Academics which could be beneficial for the Online Dating Industry.

The key to long-lasting romance is STRICT PERSONALITY SIMILARITY.

Jul 31, 2014 2:02am EDT  --  Report as abuse
FerArdenghi wrote:
Lack Of Innovation & Decadence can summarize the Online Dating Industry for years.
The key to long-lasting romance is STRICT PERSONALITY SIMILARITY.
C-Level executives are more worried about their golf scores than their company’s long term strategy and C-level executives are cooking barbecues under the water (selling smoke) and not paying attention to latest research from Academics which could be beneficial for the Online Dating Industry.

The key to long-lasting romance is STRICT PERSONALITY SIMILARITY.

Jul 31, 2014 2:02am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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