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Tackling Online Dating’s Biggest Conundrum

When you read the profile of a potential partner, how do you know it’s true? Researchers at Xerox’s PARC think they have the answer

Online dating has changed the way people start relationships. In 2000, a few hundred thousand individuals were experimenting with online dating. Today, more than 40 million people have signed up to meet their dream man or woman online.

That kind of success is reflected in the fact that this industry is currently worth some $1.9 billion in annual revenue.

Of course, nobody would claim that online dating is the perfect way to meet a mate. One problem in particular is whether to trust the information that a potential date has given. How do you know that this person isn’t being economical with the truth?

The answer with current online dating sites is that you can’t know, say Gregory Norcie and pals at PARC, the Xerox research centre in Palo Alto in Silicon Valley. In fact, various research has shown that it is common practice to lie about certain details such as age, weight, height and so on.

So Norcie and co have come up with a way to certify the information on a dating profile using social network data.

The new approach is simple. The idea these guys have come up with is to use an app that connects to a person’s Facebook page (or other social network page) and then compare the information there with the information on the dating profile. If the data is the same, then it is certified.

The beauty of this system is that the Facebook details are not open to external scrutiny—the app does not take, make public or display any information from the social network. It simply compares the information from the two sites.

Any discrepancy indicates that something, somewhere is wrong and the ambiguous details are not then certified.

Norcie and co say that this process of certification gives users a greater sense of security because Facebook data is largely peer reviewed already. “For instance, if a user is listed as “in a relationship” on Facebook, it would be cumbersome to change her status to “single”, as friends and, most embarrassingly, the user’s partner would likely notice this change,” they point out.

They call the new system Certifeye and have even tested the extent to which it increases trust in a dating website. In this experiment, they asked the opinion of more than 160 users recruited from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk who clearly indicated that they trusted the “Certifeyed” site more than a non-Certifeyed site.

That may help a certain subset of the users of online dating sites and so be something that these companies might be very interested in trying.

But many other users might think that the way that some people exaggerate their personal details is a revealing and useful indication of their personality type. That’s particularly so, given that the exaggerators must know they’ll be rumbled if they end up in a long term relationship.

Whatever the problems with trust, more people than ever are meeting online. Some 20 per cent of heterosexual couples and 60 per cent of same-sex couples now say they met online. These percentages look almost certain to increase.

Ref: arxiv.org/abs/1303.4155: Bootstrapping Trust in Online Dating: Social Verification of Online Dating Profiles

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