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.

Match group in full effect, time to rethink online dating

Stop Screwing with okcupid

It was a while since OKCupid was bought by Match group/IAC. They then went on to buy POF, Tinder and others.

OkCupid one of my top dating sites has finally dropped a key feature which for me was one of the defining features.

On Friday, online dating service OkCupid introduced its biggest change since its 2009 paid “A-List” add-on package. Starting today, the site’s users no longer see a major data point that has been standard for nearly a decade: the “visitors” tab.

“What’s the value of a visitor?” the company wrote in an e-mail to users. “Short answer: zero.” However, that valuation is shaken up by a follow-up sentence, and it may explain why the Match.com-owned company made the change. “A person who visits your profile and chooses not to follow up with a ‘like’ or a message probably (read: definitely) isn’t worth your time.”

The Visitor feature was key because it allowed you to see if someone visited your profile. Its a really nice feature and useful to understand if someone is interest or not. (there is a way to opt out if you are worried about this feature of course, but you don’t get to see who looked at you).

In short, a user could look through and see who looked at them, which is a potentially quicker path to determining who out there might have actually tapped “like” on you. (Without real-life cues like body language, online dating users can benefit from round-about paths to finding potential interest. As an occasional OkCupid user over the years, I can attest to appreciating any cues beyond seeing what happens when I send awkward, unsolicited “HI HOW ARE YOU” messages.)

Today (Saturday 29th July 2017 1300 BST) I haven’t received the email or the link to visitors is still there in my app and the site.

The statement from OKCupid is such bollox and clearly a sign they want more people to pay them for the A-list (premium service) which will get the feature of course.

I have used the visitor feature when sending a message and seeing if the woman is maybe interested or not. Generally if she looked at my profile, after I sent her the email. Then its very likely shes just not interested in me and thats fine. Its a good indicator rather than the like feature which leads towards a tinder like system.

I also tend to get about 5-7 visitors a week which is a nice place to look for potential matches.

Thus, OkCupid’s statement doesn’t necessarily add up. If a person visits your profile and does follow up with the “like” button, they just might be worth your time, and a “visitor” tab would let you tap “like” in kind and find out. But as of today, OkCupid now only has one option to reveal that information: A-List subscriptions, which cost $19.95 per individual month or $59.70 as a six-month bundle. (“A-List Premium” was introduced years later with an additional $15/month charge and more features.) Free users still “pay” for the site via advertisements, which A-List users can disable.

Once I saw this, I did look at the OKCupid EULA for changes and of course the site.

While OkCupid’s public-facing blog is typically transparent about changes, features, and site-driven research, the company elected to only inform users about this visitor-tab change via e-mail. OkCupid did not respond to Ars Technica’s questions about the changes in time for this article’s publication.

Suspect stuff… or a clear sign the match take over is in full effect now.

John from M14 industries asked how many features have they really got left?

RIP okcupids journals

He’s right really…

I think it is time to look elsewhere, as the original OkCupid idea died a long while ago and there is little which makes it better than POF (another Match group site!). At least they still have the visitor option (currently!)

All this drives my thoughts about decentrialised dating again. If I wanted to leave how would I take my profile? Could I take all those questions and answers I spent much time answering? I have had a task for a long while to make my okcupid profile public or duplicate it on a public platform I can control.

The best thing is there is a proposal which went into Mozilla Festival from the ever capable Evan Prodromou about this exact issue.

I realize it seems trivial to people thinking only of press freedom, but romance and sexuality are a huge part of human existence. Almost all major dating sites are owned by a single company (Match.com). It’s an area that requires privacy and gradual disclosure. Open dating systems are fascinating — posting one or more profiles on the open web in a way that preserves your privacy but allows gradual disclosure and connection.

He is dead right!

Some people, especially those married or in long-term relationships; but they have no idea the personal nature of the data being shared and mined by pretty much one corporation which just wants to toy with you and your life. I called it Endemic corruption and I wasn’t mixing my words.

There is an opportunity for something far better and much more useful…

Updated…

I looked at OkCupid tonight and found the notice saying…

We’ve removed visitors so you can focus on better connections
Without the distraction of visitors, you can focus on the people who really want to get to know you. And when you’re focused on those people, your chances of higher quality connections improves.

As I said in a follow up tweet, this is such a load of crap! The justification is just a joke and their blog is lacking in actual data.

So one last time before they took the feature away, I was able to grab a snapshot… Goodbye OkCupid visitors

https://www.flickr.com/photos/cubicgarden/36314426271/

Match, OkCupid, Tinder and now POF?

Swallow your fish

Big news on the online dating scene… The picture above sums it up

The Match Group, the global operator of digital dating products such as Match, Tinder, OkCupid and Meetic), and a subsidiary of IAC, announced today that it has entered into a definitive agreement to purchase PlentyOfFish for US$575 million in cash.

Yes if you didn’t already know IAC own Match, Okcupid, Tinder and now Plenty of Fish.

Plenty of fish has had its ups and downs… but $575 million isn’t bad for a dating service which was independently run and managed. Remember Instagram was sold to Facebook for just under double that at $1billion, which goes to show.  The community aspects certainly made it stand out from the rest and this was emulated by some of the others. While the freenium approach back then was quite unique.

Cheers Chris for the heads up