Lets be deadly honest about whats happening behind the dating sites

I had hoped I wouldn’t be back dating again but thats the way things go. Stepping back out into the online dating world I’m shocked how worst things have gotten.

Now OKCupid is now very driven around the hot or not mechanism. If you are on the web site, it is possible to search via questions and a keyword. But thats about it. I got sick of Bumble which once again wants way too much attention and removed the app. I requested my GDPR data again, as I’d love to get to the bottom of the cisgender male issue I had.

However saying all this… It was good to see the buzzfeed post and the connected Reddit thread which was pointed to me via Herb Kim.

Before I say anything, sadly almost zero of this was a surprise to me. Its exactly why Herb sent it my way, having the past talked a lot about the problems with dating.

Anyway I wanted to run through some of the reddit thread and add a touch more.

“We used to create fake accounts and chat with users. It was everything from someone having a premium account that wasn’t getting responses, to bored employees.”

The amount of fake accounts on dating sites is a real problem. All the sites are affected by this problem but the site team blame fake accounts on spammers. Most people don’t realise the problem is actually being caused by the dating site its self. People don’t connect the fake accounts with being ghosted over and over again.

“The algorithms are less sophisticated than you think. … The main goal of the algorithm is always to get you to pay, never to actually ensure you meet somebody in real life, as much as we tried to lie to ourselves that it was.”

With everything we know about algorithms in recent times (bias). Its been mentioned so many times and I made the judgement that this is exactly the same as the birthday paradox.

“Female dating app users tend to sign off for the day several hours earlier than male users, which results in men who log in after about 10 p.m. generally not encountering many logged in female users. In order to keep these men feeling like there is genuine female activity on the site (and thus continuing to pay for memberships), dating apps can pay for entire armies of ‘ghosts.’ Ghost profiles use photos of real women, but are  operated by men, typically young men in their late teens and early twenties, living in France, Serbia, Ukraine, and Russia.”

The fake account problem again but targetted based on stats. Its something I’m aware of but I gather its different for different sites.

“Many apps seed attractive bots to keep people engaged. The bots will send/respond to a couple of substandard questions. ‘How was your week?’ ‘What are you looking for?’ and then ghost. Despite the ghost, the high of matching with a super attractive person who spoke to you is enough to get many people hooked and chasing the dragon.”

You start to spot a pattern with the chats. Heck you can spot pattens in the profiles. For example in OK Cupid, there is something I recently noticed with huge number of profiles which have answered the same 15 questions and in the same way. Their profiles were also pretty new.

“I worked as a software engineer for a dating site in the mid-’00s. Literally every single female profile was fake. They were ‘generated’ profiles using arbitrary data and paid-for lewd photos from various sources.”

I have actually seen packs of profiles (1000’s at a time) complete with photos and data you can buy to populate a new or young dating site. Most are grabs from different sources but when I last spoke to a person, they were suggesting some have been generated by machine learning practices.
As for the data, I have seen SQL and XML dumps but most are CSV and JSON.
Prices? I’m not sure but I gather a lot cheaper than getting real people to sign up.

“Most of the female users were fake. We would import thousands of fake profiles all the time to prop up the numbers and let the men think there were all of these women on the platform.”

I experienced this with Bumble a long time ago. For weeks I could get to through most of the users in my filters. Then suddenly there was a influx of model like profiles. They all had a similar style and shouted to me fake. That’s even before you read the small amount of written profile info, which could be a user or operator not bothered. Either way, its not necessarily someone I would be interested in contacting

“I ran operations for an online dating company (notably not affiliated with Match). IIRC, we were able to determine that it takes on average about three dates before sex happens (I don’t recall how we worked that out, I’m not a data analyst, but presumably it was some keyword-based algorithm looking at chat messages).”

Some people forget all messages between users are tracked and analysed. All those things you are sharing with another person is being logged and tracked. If you read some of the  terms, you will see they also sell the keyword data

“The most depressing stat…was the histogram of word count in messages. Something like 91% of opening messages were just one word ‘hey,’ and ~85% of conversations were just one exchange long (‘hey’ -> no reply ever). Looking at human, digital mating habits splayed out in data science form was really depressing.”

This is why I stopped reading OKCupid’s Dataclysm, I started to loose faith in humanity with the conversation lengths.

“My roommate used to work at one of the big dating apps and one of the issues they had was that their algorithm changed at one point to more emphatically enforce dating ‘pools’ where people who got more right swipes would only see profiles of people who get more right swipes, etc. With the idea being that it would put people in similar ‘tiers’ to actually match. One big issue they were having was…well, racial ‘preferences’ or sexual racism being pretty amplified as a result. Black women and Asian men especially were being overwhelmingly shuffled down the algorithm because there are a lot of people who will basically automatically swipe left on them as soon as they see they’re a Black woman or an Asian man, even if they were hot as hell.”

https://i2.wp.com/image.slidesharecdn.com/dating-against-humanity-ian-forrester-final-160214222131/95/dating-against-humanity-47-638.jpg?w=840&ssl=1

Its clear by algorithmic bias that users are boxed off from each other. This is why its important to be able to find your own way around the users rather than the way the algorithm presents things to you.
My recent ex made it clear I was found outside of the recommendations. If she stuck to the algorithm we likely would never have met. I know some of you might say, well not everyone has the time to manually go through the site. But if you look at this way, madness is doing the same thing and expecting different results.
I can’t tell you how good it was to read OKCupid members blogs and get in touch. Likewise I’ve been looking for abstract terms across POF to see where people have used it and how. Years ago I had a great conversation with a woman who included a circus skill in her profile. Unfortunately it wasn’t the Diabolo but the Poi is still cool.

My ex bf worked for the Yahoo Italy dating site back in the earlyish 2000s. His job was to pretend to be a woman, and message male customers just as their accounts were going to expire. This would encourage them to pay to renew their subscriptions. Once they renewed, he would ghost them.
He only lasted for a few months due to how unethical it was.

So common and I know a few people in the past who have done this. However recently I met a person who did this for a while for a small amount of money. They are paid to engage with users as they close to the end of their membership period then once they renewed their membership disappear/ghost.
Of course the profile is a fake one, sometimes they are made up by the person or are rotated by the dating site (this has limitations of course, where the ).

A couple met on the dating app I worked on.
Unfortunately, the man passed away and the lady returned to the app where they met for remembrance.
One day, a bug in the system made some profile likes to be sent again after months and she received one from her deceased boyfriend.
Her bug report was heartbreaking.

This is horrible but I have seen similar examples of ex-members receiving emails by accident or their profile coming out of a dormant state. Mistakes happen but this should never happen

Good luck to all the singletons dating in a pandemic, its rough out there and to be fair the dating sites could make things a little easier if they wanted to.

I still have a strong feeling this is all too important to be left to the private sector. Imagine if the covid19 pandemic keeps us apart for another year? Or the next pandemic? We can’t rely on the unethical practices described above to connect people for the future…?

As if perfect timing… The Guardian has a piece about this…

Falling fertility rates have been a problem in the world’s wealthiest nations – notably in Japan and Germany – for some time. In South Korea last year, birthrates fell to 0.84 per woman, a record low despite extensive government efforts to promote childbearing. From next year, cash bonuses of 2m won (£1,320) will be paid to every couple expecting a child, on top of existing child benefit payments.

The fertility rate is also falling dramatically in England and Wales – from 1.9 children per woman in 2012 to just 1.65 in 2019. Provisional figures from the Office for National Statistics for 2020 suggest it could now be 1.6, which would be the lowest rate since before the second world war. The problem is even more severe in Scotland, where the rate has fallen from 1.67 in 2012 to 1.37 in 2019.

Channel 4’s Deepfake queens speech raises tons of questions

When I first heard Channel4’s alternative speech was going to be a deep fake of the queen. I laughed but had a ton of questions. Some of them are covered in their behind the scenes video.

I felt the deep fake was a good thing to do, as so many people can’t tell the difference between real and fake. This has a big impact on the democratic process. But of course if you are reading this, you most likely know this already. It was good they made it deliberately fake rather than pass it off as a real speech, but of course some felt it was disrespectful.

Deep and shallow fakes are here and getting better every day, there is a important public service angle putting this front and centre. We got to get better at understanding what we see may not be what’s actually true.

I wonder about the effect of Instagram on our minds

I have been having a discussion with Tim about Instagram recently. Interestingly its also the launch of Ingrid Goes West.

From tmdb

Ingrid becomes obsessed with a social network star named Taylor Sloane who seemingly has a perfect life. But when Ingrid decides to drop everything and move west to be Taylor’s friend, her behaviour turns unsettling and dangerous.

It doesn’t sound great, something like Friend Request and Unfriended.

Anyway…

I don’t use it because I have issues with the whole setup of instagram. Without going into too much detail, here’s the main points.

  1. I don’t agree with Instagram’s end user licence, which includes using your photos in almost anyway they like.
  2. I don’t like the creation of instagrams is all within the same app (for example I use a Plume on Android and Corebird on Ubuntu) to access Twiter and I create, edit and post to twitter not within twitter (it a important distinction)
  3. I don’t like the fact Instagram isn’t really public, indexable or accessible unless you are on instagram.
  4. I have a problem with filtered views of real life. Its bad enough that every photo you see has been doctored/photoshopped/filtered/algorithmicilly messed. But I don’t want to see them everyday.

Photoshopping

And the last point is a key one, as its clear there are serious problems with seeing this level of fakeness everywhere. Like it or not, it becomes normalised.

I hear some of you say this is no more than what Twitter or Facebook do/enable? and I would somewhat agree… but I have built ways to deal with this partly due to being able to use other apps or types of behaviours which run against the way it was engineered.

For example I don’t really look at the Facebook timeline, as I know its trying to lock me into a filter bubble, somewhat of my own making. Yes I could do a Robert Scoble and manage it into a better bubble, but I just don’t think its worthy of attention; plus Facebook doesn’t share this data in their data portability exports meaning all that work isn’t transferable at all. I know being without Facebook makes things very tricky but I can manage my activity within it right now, this might change of course as FB gets more greedy

Its easy to blame Instagram for all types of ills but its not solely them. Its a combination of Instagram and its share holders, the silicon valley push for winner takes all adoption of everything (dare I say anything about Uber in London) but most of all; ourselves for being suckers to peer pressure, advertising and patterns which are so established others are telling us exactly how they work!

We blindly follow suit without thinking about the long term effects. Mark Manson suggests the smartphone is going to be this generations cigarettes. When thinking about most peoples experience of the smartphone with Instagram, Facebook and Whatsapp preloaded, I can’t help but think actually he’s got a good point. Its the perfect Black Mirror episode, total fantasy as Rachel said!

Black MIrror s3ep1

We seem to be playing with fire without a true understanding of the consequences. Even if we do, how do you make this clear to others who are suckered in? How do you make this clear in the face of peer & social pressure? How do we make this clear to the next generation, the ones born with visions of a unattainable perfection all around them?

I’m not a sucker and won’t be joining to be a poster or lurker just so I can scroll through my friends fake reality pictures.

Dirty little fingers in the data bucket

OkCupid | NO MATCH

Well I got to say… Its good to see some of the online dating sites feeling the heat from BBC’s Panorama last week.

In “Tainted Love: Secrets of the Dating Game,” the state broadcaster’s flagship current affairs program, Panorama, claimed to have uncovered a wide range of questionable practices by the online dating industry.

These include deliberate use of millions of photos and private details taken from social media sites without consent and reused to set up fake profiles of imaginary potential partners to, in the program’s words, “tempt the lovelorn.”

The documentary featured interviews with former online dating agency staffers who admitted on camera how they’d used such data to create fake profiles and adopt multiple personas to reel in those looking for love — and to boost profits.

The report also claimed the sources of this illegally obtained personal material ranged from British celebrities, politicians and even children. On camera, one former employee said that other European countries (notably Spain) were the main target, with easy pickings apparently coming from platforms such as MySpace.

As part of the investigation, reporters posing as prospective dating agency business openers were able to buy 10,000 people’s details, including birthdates and sexual preferences. That dataset included a member of the House of Lords, academics and BBC staff, all of whom told the BBC they had never signed up for such services.

Even my choice OkCupid are being targeted. Which is good because to be fair, although I do like their business model (well its better that the rest), I will never forget that they have been bought by Match.com and things are slightly changing for the worst.

 

Catfished: A reason to be so open?

Beautiful giant kite balloon/floats -- Santa Monica, CA

I really feel for C_T_S or Claire Travers Smith, who is the writer behind 52 First dates and I wrote about quite sometime ago.

She and many others had been Catfished by someone for a good part of a year (or more) by someone calling themselves Sebastian Pritchard-Jones and other names. If you don’t know what Catfishing is…

A catfish is someone who pretends to be someone they’re not using Facebook or other social media to create false identities, particularly to pursue deceptive online romances.

Sebastian turned out to be a woman in Wales by the name Amy! Its a big problem with online dating and frankly meeting anyone online. You got to really have your wits about you and use lots of street smarts. But even with all that, its not long before you find yourself suckered into something you don’t expect.

I am glad to say this has never happened to me (yet!) even with all the women I’ve dated online. I have a non-fast rule saying if we talk online for a while there is only a few steps it can really go as a relationship. For me to say I’m in a relationship, I must have met them a few times in real life. Theres already too many people messing around dating sites never actually going on dates for various reasons. Even some of the dating sites are waking up to the reality of these “Timewasters” and encouraging people to meet in the real world. Putting the dating back into dating, indeed…So no matter how well we’re getting on, we got to meet in the real world for me to change my single status (FB Status joking of course).

I of course am pretty open and I got to say I’m pretty consistent.This is maybe why I find it hard to be someone else?Anyway I’m shocked at this story and can’t imagine what its like to be catfished, not just physically but very much mentally. Although I did feel like I might have been years ago… (details are best left alone) One of the most interesting points is when one of the victims starts working things out and contacts other victims. Because I gather the catfishers are never satisfied with just one or two people duped. Victims can gather together and learn a lot about the catfishers. But this requires being frank and open about whats been going on…

One advantage of there being so many victims, according to Claire, is that they were able to compare notes. Clues.

I think something is happening but I can’t quite put my finger on it. Being able to clearly say this is me and I am who I say I am is becoming huge currently for the internet. Connected profiles make it difficult to do identity fraud in the way of a catfisher would need or require. In the case of Seb, the persons identity who was stolen was Gary who lived in Hull.

The man in the images seen by Ali turned out to be a construction worker called Gary who lived in Hull. As with Craig, his photos had been taken from Facebook; Gary admitted to me, when I telephoned, that he’d never been very careful with his security settings. I told him Ali had been so wrung out by her nine-month affair with Seb – Gary’s face, stranger’s voice – that she’d eventually relocated to Australia. Gary told me: “It’s a weird feeling to think somebody was in love with you like that. I just feel really sorry for [Ali]. It’s hard for me to take in, it’s been a shock, but I’m not the one who’s had my heart broken. There’s nothing worse.”

I’m of course not wanting to test the theory with my own profile or wish it upon anyone else. (oh and I’m not blaming Craig, he’s a victim in this as well) but I do wonder if a catfisher was to take on a hyper connected profile would it work the same? I guess what I’m wondering…

Is a hyper-connected profile, the only way to protect against being catfished? Just a thought… Of course you could always keep your self off the internet all together but thats just being silly… But when working with a profoundly disturbed psychopath could this work?

after discussion with psychologists and with editors at the Observer it was agreed that this extensive, energetic fraud could only have been conducted by a profoundly disturbed person. When I presented the evidence gathered to an investigative psychologist, Dr Keith Ashcroft, he suggested “the temporary relief of boredom” as one of the hoaxer’s motivations. He also introduced me to the psychologists’ term “duping delight”. Dr Ashcroft explained: “Essentially a thrill derived from having victims being intensely controlled and manipulated by carefully formulated deceptions. This is often the modus operandi of a psychopath.”