Buffalo State Experts: Professors Comment on Online Dating Experiments

Buffalo State Experts: Professors Comment on Online Dating Experiments

Posted: August 4, 2014

After the dating site OkCupid revealed it had conducted experiments with subscribers, public outrage ensued. One experiment presented potential partners as 90 percent compatible when the algorithms had actually placed their compatibility at 30 percent. Another experiment ran profiles with pictures and no profile text for half of its test subjects, and vice versa to see if people responded solely to the pictures.

Likewise, in June, Facebook admitted to conducting a social experiment that changed some users' news feeds to control which emotional expressions they were exposed to. 

Two Buffalo State professors can provide insight into this phenomenon.

Ramona Santa Maria, assistant professor in the Computer Information Systems (CIS) Department, has studied emerging technologies and social media and noted that companies do such experiments to advance their business models and break through “the noise in the media realm.” 

“In theory, OkCupid performed the experiments to help its users and to launch a new app, Blind Date," said Santa Maria. "But the way they manipulated users is a little over the line.”

“While both of these companies have a clause in their terms of service stating that they can use your data as they want, OkCupid crossed a line because it is impacting real lives,” Santa Maria added. “It might make you sad or angry if you don’t see photos on Facebook, but it’s not going to change your life and you’re not going to send Facebook more money, whereas you might to a dating site.”

Jennifer Hunt, associate professor of psychology and coordinator of the women and gender studies program, noted that social psychologists who study relationships have been using these kinds of manipulations for decades. However, there is an ethical problem with conducting research without informed consent and debriefing.

“Human participants have the right to know that someone wants to study them, to know what that research will involve, and to make a decision about whether or not they wish to participate,” Hunt said, “Researchers also have an important ethical obligation to debrief participants after the study is over, explaining what the research involved and, if necessary, restoring participants to their pre-study states. My understanding is that neither of these procedures was followed by OkCupid, which is ethically problematic.”

The CIS program studies the use of software, hardware, data, networks, and the Internet to design and develop information technology systems. The bachelor of science in CIS prepares students for positions in the information technology field, providing them with the knowledge and organizational skills necessary for a variety of subsequent career paths, including programmer, systems analyst, network administrator, Web developer, and database administrator.

The Psychology Department offers two undergraduate degrees and a minor in psychology. The department provides undergraduates with internship and research opportunities usually only offered to graduate students. Buffalo State graduates in psychology have pursued careers in human services, human resources, research, counseling, and other fields.

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