3 Danish students have published a paper on your failing love life
OkCupid users, beware. Your data may have just been published in an academic study.
Motherboard reports that three student researchers from universities in Denmark have published a paper containing a dataset with information from 70,000 OkCupid users. Experts warn that it may be possible to match data with users’ real identities.
Members between November ’14 and March ’15 are vulnerable
The data was collected between November 2014 and March 2015 using a tool called a “scraper” that automatically saves certain parts of a webpage. Data collected included usernames, ages, genders, locations, religions, astrological signs, and answers to the 2,600 most popular questions in the OkCupid surveys – questions that reveal such sensitive information as users’ political leanings, religious views, sexual orientations, sexual fetishes, and drug habits.
Data from OkCupid is considered “semi-public.” If someone searches your OkCupid profile name in Google, they will see some of your information, but will not be able to see your complete profile until they log into the site.
They hope other researchers will use your data
According to researchers Emil O.W. Kirkegaard and Julius D. Bjerrekaer, “OkCupid is an attractive site to gather data from.” The purpose of the research was to figure out whether or not “users’ general cognitive ability” could be discerned from their survey answers.
The researchers even went on to say that they “hope that other researchers will use the dataset for their own purposes.”
The researchers’ use of the dataset, while violating OkCupid’s Terms of Service, was not illegal. After all, one could argue that the data was already easily accessible by the public, since anyone can open an OkCupid account. However, many experts question the ethics of publishing such sensitive personal information.
They could have left it anonymous… and didn’t
In the past, other researchers using scrapers have made a point to remove usernames and anonymize the data, so that information can’t be paired with users’ real identities. However, the Danish researchers failed to anonymize the data they drew from OkCupid.
Said Rasmus Munksgaard, a researcher who also uses a scraper, “the data may be ‘public,’ …but that does not absolve anyone from ethical responsibility.”