Some people claim that the Facebook study probably would have passed IRB approval at a university if it were held to the same standards.

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This lack of a rigorous ethics board has caused much outcry from academic researchers who do similar studies.

However, it is also worth mentioning that there are no universal standards for ethics boards internationally, or even in America.

You probably have noticed some widespread media coverage about OKCupid’s “experiment” wherein, to look for patterns in dating behavior, they manipulated aspects of the site without informing users (see OKCupid’s announcement here as well as coverage here and here).

This revelation comes in the wake of Facebook’s massive experiment, which attracted similar attention and criticism. It’s very common for relationship scientists to perform controlled experiments, like these, where some people are randomly put into conditions in which they are exposed to a particular stimulus (while others are put in a control condition in which they are exposed to the stimulus).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, users were more likely to exchange messages with each other when they Read about a classic experiment here that shows this effect.

In both of these cases (OKCupid and the psychological research cited in the prior sentence), the experimenters used deception.

A good rule of thumb is whether the potential harm of participating is no greater than what people would ordinarily experience in their daily lives (this is called minimal risk).

So in OKCupid’s experiment, the worst that could possibly happen is that a participant goes on an unsuccessful date with someone whom they met on the site.

OKCupid, as far as I can tell, did not mention any internal review process for ethical considerations in their study.