OKCupid Just Published 70,000 Users’ Data: Here’s What That Actually Means

There are a lot of risks when it comes to dating sites and apps that go far beyond an awkward dinner date. Even just by creating a profile, you’ve supplied personal information about yourself that marketers, advertisers, and researchers will pay big bucks to get their hands on. According to VICE’s Motherboard, a modest amount of 70,000 OkCupid users had their data publicly published. Sure, this isn’t as scandalous as the infamous Ashley Madison hack (which I am hoping becomes a film starring the same exact cast as the Ghostbusters reboot) but it’s important to know what this means exactly.

Privacy is quickly becoming a thing of the past. There is even a way for you to see if your current partner is busy swiping right on Tinder while you’re waiting for them to reply to your last text. When anonymous hackers who leaked the Ashely Madison users’ information, it wasn’t without consequence. Although those users may have ‘deserved it’ as far as some people are concerned, it brings up a pressing question that extends beyond moral boundaries: Where is the line between what personal info is up for public access and what should be private?

So, here’s what happened with OkCupid. Motherboard’s Joseph Cox gives us the skinny.

“A student and a co-researcher have publicly released a dataset on nearly 70,000 users of the dating site OkCupid, including their sexual turn-ons, orientation, usernames and more. And critics say it may be possible to work out users’ real identities from the published data.”

With the help of Google and social media outlets, we can be our own detectives. We can figure out what our ex’s current girlfriend did today. We can figure out where we recognize actors from by a quick search. It wouldn’t take a whole lot of work to figure out who the individuals are that correlate to the released data and the actual individual.

Digital Humanities Specialist at Carnegie Mellon University, Scott B. Weingart, is uber-confident that he could crack the code and put actual names to each profile.

In OkCupid’s defense, the article insists that “this was all information available to users of OkCupid once they were signed in. Arguably, the data was public, as it didn’t contain direct messages, or anything of that sort.”

OK, but why release this information? What’s the point? “OkCupid is an attractive site to gather data from,” Emil O. W. Kirkegaard, who identifies himself as a masters student from Aarhus University, Denmark, and Julius D. Bjerrekær, who says he is from the University of Aalborg, also in Denmark, note in their paper “The OKCupid dataset: A very large public dataset of dating site users.”

OkCupid is an attractive site to gather data from.

Kirkegaard was one of the “authors” of the published database, and although the whole thing reads super sketchy, what he did was not illegal. “Anything as large and old as the university system will be slow-moving and difficult to change course, usually by design,” Weingart from CMU told Motherboard in an email. “We don’t want to rush into anything, we want to understand the outlines and ethics first. This is a case of the world moving much faster than the university system, and we’re scrambling to catch up.”

Laws and “terms and conditions” are struggling to keep up with the times and protect individuals’ privacy. My advice to you would just be to proceed with caution.