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Digital Data Mined Dating

Feb 10, 20114 mins
Data and Information SecurityFacebookMicrosoft

Looking for love? Dating site intends to setup profiles for you without your knowledge, whether you want it or not.

With the approach of Valentine’s Day, I have some online dating related amusing news and sleazy bad news for you.

Unlike most online dating sites that keep their data of users’ flirtations a secret, the free online dating site OKCupid data mines its database of over 1 million dating profiles to find interesting correlations to publish in its OKTrends series. The company does remove all personal identifiers to preserve users’ privacy and to keep the data anonymous, but its privacy policy advises users to be cautious about disclosing personal information that, once made public, can be “read, collected, or used by other users.”

OKCupid’s OKTrends series sometimes finds amusing correlations after data mining its data profiles. The most recent was “The Best Questions For A First Date” which revealed some of the seemingly harmless questions asked by daters mean oh-so-much more. For instance, “Do you like the taste of beer?” 60% of the people who answered “yes” will also answer “yes” to “Do you have sex on the first date?”

OKCupid explained that when a user answers a “match question” there is an option for “Answer this question privately.” The less often a user checks “private” when answering a question, the more confident OKCupid feels about saying what questions are safe to ask on a first date. There is a intriguing interactive scatter plot of questions sorted by privacy.

Another interesting correlation, dealt with politics,

* Do you prefer the people in your life to be simple or complex? bought OKCupid for $50 million in cash, so it’s unknown if OKCupid will continue with its OKTrends series.

On to the bad and infuriating news about online dating sites and privacy. How seriously should you take an online dating site that offers sites like Prison Hookup, Marry Me First, White People Date and Ugly People Date? Those are only a few of the dating sites owned by Gotham Dating Partners.

You should take it very seriously, for, in what seems like a super sleazy move to me, Gotham Dating Partners intends to scrape social aggregator sites like creepy Spokeo, PeopleFinder, social-networking sites, government census records, mailing lists, marketing surveys, marriage and divorce records, real estate listings, and personal and business websites to create dating profiles without users’ knowledge or consent.

Wait, it gets even more twisted. In a press release, Gotham had the audacity to claim it was creating these scraped dating profiles in the “interest of public safety, especially in the light of the wanton disregard for human life displayed in the Arizona Shooting.” VP of Gotham marketing, Damon Jordan continued, “Creating profiles for individuals, even if they do not register with us, is a protective measure to ensure the accuracy of the information submitted on our websites.” Furthermore, Gotham claimed “if they don’t take these measures, the nation will have more incidents like that in Arizona, Columbine, and other bizarre acts of violence by sociopaths who have public profiles that were inaccurate. This would make all of our members transparent before the eyes of the world.”

Jordan, told iTnews that Gotham will “soon host some 340 million profiles after scraping information.” The Gotham VP of marketing went on record as saying there would be no privacy issues since the information extracted would be public. In other words, Gotham claims that if you have not set your Facebook account settings to private, all the personal data there about you is public domain.

The Toronto Star reported that Facebook sent the following cease and desist letter to Gotham Dating Partners.

Facebook demands that you cease this activity immediately, and that you account for and purge all data that your company collected, copied, scraped and/or took from the Facebook site.

In closing, a gentle reminder to be careful about what information you reveal on social media sites, protect your privacy, and consider following these online dating safety tips.

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ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.