The OkCupid logo is shown in blue (Photo : YouTube / NOVA's Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers)
Nearly 70,000 users from OkCupid had their data released to the public without their consent by a group of Danish researchers, who are now being criticized for being unethical in their method.
OkCupid profiles are basically public for everyone to see. One can just create an account and browse through profiles but the act of collecting the data from the website without any permission is being viewed as a breach of social science ethics.
Researchers from the Aarhus University in Denmark have used a software application to automatically pick out and extract profile data from the website and onto a set. The university has said that the data was not collected on their behalf and that they had nothing to do with the project at all.
After scraping all of the data, they were crunched through a set and uploaded on the Open Science Framework, where scientists can share their data freely. The data uploaded is part anonymous because no real names are presented to match with the accounts, Engadget reported.
Through careful reading and analyzation of the uploaded data, someone could still figure out who is the real person behind an account. The usernames are still uploaded and they can be connected to all of the available information and questions on OkCupid.
Emil O. W. Kirkegaard, the lead researcher on the research, said that they did not completely anonymize the data because it was already publicly available. Experts argue that public data does not mean that it the people involve already give out their consent to use the data for other ways.
People on OkCupid does consent to making their profiles public, but for the reason of finding potential dating partners. However, they did not really consent to making their data available for researchers as well.
There is also the issue on whether the scraped profiles data were really accessible to the public in the first place, WIRED reported. However, the researchers said that they scraped the profiles that were available to the new OkCupid profile they created, therefore not really penetrating any deeper layers of security from the dating site.
OkCupid has not commented on the issue. It is not known whether they have put up safeguards to prevent future scraping of profiles.