If You Use This Dating App, Your Personal Data May Have Been Leaked

Photographed by Alexandra R Gavillet.
Last week, a group of Danish researchers publicly released a dataset of nearly 70,000 users of the online dating site OkCupid. Now, they're facing major backlash from the scientific community, which is questioning the ethics of their methods.

The researchers were able to obtain the information by using software to automatically scrape profiles.

The OkCupid dataset included usernames, ages, genders, locations, what kind of relationship (or sex) users are interested in, personality traits, and answers to the site's thousands of profiling questions. The researchers did not make any users anonymous or ask for consent.

The researchers stand by their decision to use the data, saying, "Data is already public.”

According to Wired, the head researcher, Aarhus University graduate student Emil O. W. Kirkegaard, added in an online journal's forum (which has since been suspended for legal reasons), "Some may object to the ethics of gathering and releasing this data. However, all the data found in the dataset are or were already publicly available, so releasing this dataset merely presents it in a more useful form."
Yes, the data is technically public. But several critics have pointed out that there is an ethical and legal argument to be made for "scraping" information.

Vox points out
that it's a breach of ethics according to the American Psychological Association, which states that people involved in research studies have the right to consent.
An OkCupid spokesman also told Vox that scraping data violates the dating site's terms and could become a possible legal matter.

Even worse, Wired suggests that it's possible — though unconfirmed — that the researchers created an OkCupid profile so they could access the data and run the scraping bot.

The big problem if those allegations are true? The researchers may have collected and released information that users only make available to other logged-in users, not the general public.

Kirkegaard has not responded to questions from several publications, but told Motherboard that he "would like to wait until the heat has declined a bit before doing any interviews. Not to fan the flames on the social justice warriors.”

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