We may be looking for love in all sorts of places, but that doesn’t mean we want the world to know about it. Unfortunately for 70,000 OKCupid users, their opinions weren’t exactly taken into consideration before a group of Danish researchers released their data to the world. But fortunately, all that data has since been taken down.
According to a report from Vox, researchers Emil Kirkegaard, Oliver Nordbjerg, and Julius Daugbjerg Bjerrekær used a data scraper to collect information including user names, ages, gender, religion, personality traits, and users’ answers to personal questions that are used by OKCupid to find better matches. While the data dump didn’t include any names, the amount of other information made available makes it relatively easy to guess who is associated with what, reports note. Those affected by the purposeful data leak represent dozens of countries from around the globe.
The data was uploaded to the Open Science Framework, a public forum meant for scientists to share raw data regarding social science. But many believe that the researchers broke the single most important rule of their field: Get consent.
Neither OKCupid nor its users were notified that this information would be released, and in a statement to Vox, the dating website said that the team’s actions broke OKCupid’s terms of usage and and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. As such, the dating website sent a copyright notice to the Open Science Framework, and as a result of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) claim, the data has been taken down.
Previously, Kirkegaard, the lead author of the data dump, maintained no wrongdoing on his team’s part, saying that the “data is already public.” Indeed, it would seem as though the researchers anticipated the public backlash against their decision, noting in their paper, “Some may object to the ethics of gathering and releasing this data,” the researchers wrote in their paper, Vox reported. “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.” And even now, the team remains indignant, with Kirkegaard telling Retraction Watch, “It’s unclear to me which part [OKCupid] claim[s] copyright on.”
“I have no comments about the DMCA, other than to note that DMCA claims are often used as censorship tools,” Kirkegaard added in an email to Motherboard. He also notes that OkCupid has yet to reach out to him directly regarding the release of information.
Regardless of final outcome, the data dump raises a number of important questions regarding privacy in our digital age, and the extent to which any of our personal information can truly be kept to ourselves. As for OKCupid, a spokesperson said simply, “we’re exploring legal options.”
Updated on 05-18-2016 by Lulu Chang: Added details of OKCupid’s DMCA claim and subsequent removal of published dataset.
Originally published on 05-15-2016.