Over the past year, the online dating service OkCupid has shaken up some of its core features, and the changes of all of the services are far closer to resembling the rival dating app Tinder. Wednesday’s big change, however, saw the site borrow the subtle Tinder “feature” that has angered longtime users of other online platforms: a real-name policy, coming before the end of the year.
“We all have real names,” the company said open letter state while listing a variety of goofy-looking handles that the unnamed author emphasizes are taken from real dating news. “We know, this is tough to hear. It is because, as we recently said goodbye to AIM screen names, it is time to keep the times. under another layer of mysticque.”
The feature will only display first names, and OkCupid says no external service verification will be used to verify that the name matches your actual identity. An OkCupid spokesperson told Ars Technica that only requests are at least two letters long with no numbers, symbols, or emojis and that it will operate a “banned text” list, the contents of which are not disclosed.
Real name, real headache?
OkCupid’s decision follows a turbulent period earlier in the decade when a number of companies began preventing customers from publicly identifying themselves with pseudonyms, and instead mandated that they use real names, even when communicating with other users. Facebook’s policy, in particular, has faced critical scrutiny thanks to privacy and LGBTQ advocates pointing out the problems and risks users may face by adding “legal” names to their online accounts. Google’s efforts to link real-name information to Google+ accounts have faltered and burned due to user outcry—especially in terms of those real names linked to YouTube accounts. Blizzard toyed with the real name policy for roughly a week in 2010 before changing course due to negative fan responses.
Facebook ultimately won in European courts in disputes over its real-name policies, but that hasn’t stopped critics, including Ars’ own Timothy B. Lee, from talking about why Internet anonymity is important, especially in the face of of governments are trying to legislate their own real-name laws. From Lee’s 2011 op-ed:
Not everyone is looking for anonymity to behave rudely. Some online speakers prefer anonymity because they fear their rightful online speech could lead to real-life retaliation. That could mean a citizen of a terrorist regime who wants to criticize the government. It can mean a whistleblower who wants to reveal the wrongdoings of his employer. It could be a woman who is trying to avoid being found out by her husband who is unfaithful. List the reasons people want to speak anonymously almost infinite.
Lee also points out that companies in free-speech countries like the United States are welcome to enforce their own real name rules, and users can accept or reject them as they see fit, so OkCupid plans (probably) don’t work anymore. American law. But they raised questions about the sensitive data proposition of online dating and how any attachment to real identities could prove problematic. A European Tinder user found this out earlier this year when he requested, and eventually received, an 800-page publication of personally identifiable data the company had collected about using the service. And whether you’re using the site in an above-the-line fashion or behind a partner’s back, the ramifications of real dating data in the hands of hackers are still ringing loudly following the Ashley Madison scandal in 2015.
When asked about issues with identifying factors that can lead to harassment and abuse, whether due to stalkers and exes or due to users who are members of the LGBTQ community, an OkCupid spokesperson responded with a statement:
“We know this is a change that has affected the society. We have always been about inclusivity and making OkCupid a place where everyone feels welcome, which is why we were one of the first dating apps to provide non-binary gender options and today there are 22 gender options and 13 orientations. It is important to note that it does not have to be a legal first name, it can be any nickname that you want the your day calls you.” The statement also indicated that the company stopped indexing its profiles on Google “months ago.”
OkCupid’s accelerated Tinder-ization
In OkCupid’s case, the move follows some other major changes that bring the service closer to Tinder. This, for example, reflects Tinder’s use of Facebook profile data, which assigns a “real” first name to a user account.
Last month, OkCupid rolled out a change to its messaging system prevent any user from seeing if they have received an unsolicited message unless they stumble upon the message-capital’s dating profile and indicate a “like.” Doing this opens up the applicant’s ability to contact the other person directly. This is similar to Tinder, which only allows messages to be shared when both users indicate “like.” For some users (read: celebrities, such as on-site activity), this feature change may reduce mailbox clutter. For others (read: less famous), this makes receiving messages very difficult and all but requires constant scrolling and scrolling through certain profiles to increase your chances of the sender opening up to contact you.
In July, OkCupid also removed an opt-out feature that shows users who stumbled on their dating profile and when they did so. This allowed daters, especially the less popular ones, to passively peruse potential matches of interest. By removing this opt-out feature, OkCupid essentially nudged users to do more browsing and swiping through the site’s entire inventory of daters.