OK Cupid Users Doxed in the Name of Science!

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If you used OK Cupid between November 2014 and March 2015, congratulations! You may have been the unwitting subject of an open-access psychology study, by which I mean all your personal information may have just been released to the public, including your demographic data and sexual turn-ons, all attached to your username. (Find if your username was affected here.)

70,000 OKCupid users were doxxed this week by Emil O. W. Kirkegaard, a Danish linguistics grad student who likes to pretend he’s a working psychologist of some kind by publishing his own “journal” which mostly features his own “research.” Being the editor of your own made-up journal is handy because you don’t have to bother with things like peer review and ethical guidelines.

Usually I’m all for freedom of information, but you may have guessed that I’m not too thrilled about this data dump. That’s because Kirkegaard didn’t bother to anonymize the data. So it’s not just that now the entire world knows that someone out there is a 48-year old white gay guy who lives in Sheboygan and likes to be spanked and occasionally smokes pot, but they also know that his username is danielpguggenheim68, which may make it EVEN EASIER to figure out who he is. Note that I just made all that up — I’m not going to help the spread of the info.

But I don’t really need to, because the data has already been downloaded hundreds of times. So even if Kirkegaard goes back and anonymizes the data, the toothpaste is already out of the tube. He’s just doxxed 70,000 people, and possibly committed crimes in several different countries.

I say “possibly” because it’s an open question whether or not any of this is illegal, since by Kirkegaard’s defense the data was “public,” in that you could view it if you signed up for an OK Cupid account and went to each user’s profile page. According to him, public data is public data, no matter what form it’s in or what you’re doing with it. At which point, you have to wonder why he needed to collect it all in the first place.

While the legal system hasn’t had time to process our society’s current issues with public and private data online, the scientific establishment more or less has it covered. And this was super, duper unethical. In just about any country and for any publication, you’d have to get each user’s permission before releasing their data in this way. And even if the data was anonymized, at the very least Kirkegaard would have been required to get the approval of OKCupid before purposely circumventing their security measures and violating their terms of service to scrape this data.

Instead of facing those issues like a scientist, or at least like a grown-ass adult, Kirkegaard has chosen to ignore them and insist that the scientific community’s universal disgust with him is merely the result of “social justice warriors.” To that, all I can say is that I really hope he likes being the editor of his own journal, because fucking nobody is hiring him after this.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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  1. I like how this guy thinks that people expecting him to adhere to ethical standards is an “SJW storm.” So this guy is a masters student, and has apparently never picked up on the concept of academic ethics? Ok, sure, he’s a linguistics student, but I was a physics student, and I still managed to find a way to learn that stuff.
    On the plus side, at least now we can use “actually, it’s about no ethics,” as well as “actually, it’s about ethics.” Now all we need is, “actually, ethics has no real application in this context,” and we’ve got the set!

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