Two years ago Facebook conducted another experiment where they locked some users out of Facebook. Those users were told that Facebook believed them to be either software robots or people using fake names, even though Facebook didn’t actually believe that. The lie was just a test to help improve Facebook’s anti-fraud system.
These are just two of hundreds of tests in which Facebook appears to have concluded that the abuse of users and the lying to users was worth the information gathered, which they claim is all in the service of improving the service.
In the wake of the outcry over the Facebook experiments, OKCupid co-founder Christian Rudder published a blog post bragging that “We Experiment On Human Beings!” OKCupid is an online dating site.
Like Facebook, OKCupid explained that the tests were all in the service of understanding users and providing a better service.
In one experiment, OKCupid lied to a group of users, telling them that potential dates their algorithms had determined were highly incompatible were the opposite -- highly compatible. In other words, they fixed people up who they expected would not get along.
Defenders of the Facebook and OKCupid tests have two defenses. First, that testing improves the services. Second, testing of this kind of very common. It’s so-called A/B testing. For example, some news sites show one headline to one group of readers and another headline to a different group to find out which headline works best to attract people.
The difference is that Facebook and OKCupid are actively and deliberately messing with people’s relationships and feelings.
In some of these cases, such as Comcast and Facebook, the public exposure of their shameless harassment of customers resulted in expressions of surprise, followed by apologies. In other cases, such as Twitter and OKCupid, no apology or admission of wrongdoing can be expected.
But in all cases, the companies appear to know exactly what they’re doing. They’ve all come to the apparent realization that beating the competition and separating customers from their money is more important than making customers happy.
If the trend continues as it appears to, companies will increasingly realize that customer satisfaction is often not connected at all to winning in the marketplace and making more money.
It’s a sad trend, obviously, but a real one.
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