Ever wonder why in the world you were learning calculus? When would you ever need to know how to do this stuff? You have a smart phone, right? Truthfully, many jobs out there don’t require that level of mathematical know-how. However, it looks as if a job isn’t the only thing math is good for. In fact, a math professor has figured out a way to find his perfect pairing by using mathematics to hack OkCupid, the popular dating website. Sounds creepy, right? It kind of was, but it all worked out in the end.
So, 35-year-old Chris McKinlay had just broken up with his girlfriend of nine months and was looking for love in greener pastures. Unfortunately, the pastures of OkCupid were fenced off and divided by boundaries, set-up by questions and answers asked of all profile users. On OkCupid you look through a list of thousands of questions and choose a certain number of them you want to answer and then assign an importance value to the answers of other users to those same questions. The way OkCupid creates pairs is by matching your answers and your importance values to those of other people who have answered similarly. The problem with this is, what if you’re not answering the same questions that your “type” is answering? What if the person you’re meant to be with didn’t answer the same 300 questions you did, and thereby didn’t even get tossed into your options pool?
McKinlay thought about this, and then set a plan in motion to even the playing field a little bit.
What He Did
McKinlay is a bit of a math whiz, having partaken in a card counting group for a few years, akin to MIT’s famous professional blackjack team. So seeing a chance to use his skill with numbers and calculations, McKinlay put to use screen scraping romantically for the first and only time in history. He set up programs and bots to go on profile pages to collect data from his target demographic: 25 to 45 year-old, heterosexual or bisexual women. Unfortunately, OkCupid has in place some pretty serious prevention from screen scrape counter measures to make sure people aren’t able to do this. Before long, his bots were shut down; a sad day for our lovelorn hacker hero.
But, taking Chumbawumba’s advice, he kept right at it. With the aid of a friend, who let him monitor his screen time and clicking intervals when using OkCupid, McKinlay wrote a program that would work at the speed of a normal human being when browsing through the profiles, thus walking, unnoticed, past the prevention from screen scrape guard dogs. After plugging his computer into the broadband connection that let him use MIT’s super computers for his dissertation research, he pressed start and the data mining began running, 24/7.
Of course, now he had millions of answers and data points gathered from thousands of profiles, which are meaningless without some sort of order to them. After looking into old models that helped researchers in the 1990s analyze data about soybean diseases, our Casanova found his algorithm of choice and ran his data through it. Luckily enough, it worked! It then organized his entries into fixed plots in a 3D grid, giving him a crystal clear look at just which bubble his soul mate was hiding in.
After figuring out which questions were most important to net himself one of those fish in the sea, of which we’ve always been told there are millions, he made a profile answering all the right questions - but he did it on his own. No computer generated answers or falsities here; all of those answers were 100% McKinley. He didn’t want a relationship built on lies, after all. Well, one golden profile and many, many sifted responses later, he found Tien Wang, a 28-year-old artist and prison abolition activist, who was a 91% match for him. Soon after they went on their first date (it was first date #88 for McKinlay), and two weeks later they said goodbye to their OkCupid accounts and are now happily involved in a relationship. Yes, with each other.
Tien Wang is, of course, very aware of the situation - about how McKinlay worked the system to find her, but she’s tickled by it. She thinks that OkCupid is just a mechanism for getting people in a room, and all McKinlay did was clear the fog a bit to make things easier. After all, it ended up working out for her, too. It’s a fun story about math and love and it serves as a light hearted reminder that tools can be used for both good and evil.
While, perhaps, our OkCupid files aren’t the worst thing in the world to have screen scraped, it does make one wonder what else might be scraped. If you are representing a company and wonder how ScrapeSentry can prevent malicious screen scraping, please send us your contact information and we will get back to you as soon as possible.