OK Cupid’s Full-Face Photo Requirements And Bad Assumptions

It’s been five years since I wrote about OKCupid making a big privacy mis-step by requiring (at least temporarily) the use of real names on profiles.

Now they seem to be refusing to verify, removing photos, delisting, or even locking users out of their accounts if they do not wish to show their entire face to everyone, or wish to choose when to share their face with those they are communicating with.

In addition to going over that, we’re also going to take a look at the flawed assumptions in their so-called "Incognito Mode," and the inherent ableism in their help documentation.

* * *

Five years ago, I said, with dating sites (hell, dating at all), you want to reveal information about yourself at your own pace.

That is still true.

Things have also changed for the worse quite a bit since then, too.

There’s still the same concerns, primarily that if you know what someone looks like and, say, where they work, then that opens up the door to stalkers. [1]

But if you add in the Dobbs decision (and its possible impact on one’s right to privacy in the bedroom and relationships), or that discrimination can and does occur for people in LGBTQIA+ relationships or in heterosexual ethically non-monogamous ones [2], there are reasons why people on dating apps might want to not show their faces to everyone that may or may not "swipe" on them.

And yet, in another (poorly-enforced) rule, OKCupid is deactivating (or at least shadowbanning) users whose profile photos have them wearing a mask because they are "not showing their full face".

Yes, masks like the ones everyone had to wear during the pandemic.

* * *

A quick sidebar: The "incognito mode" offered by OKCupid — where your profile and photos are only displayed if you have "liked" someone else’s profile — is a laughable band-aid. While it may help avoid random doxxing, literally everyone I know who has used a dating app has had an experience where they quickly changed their mind about someone after a few messages.

Worse, nearly every female-presenting person I know has at least story of a person — usually male — reacting with anger, cursing, and threats after even the most gentle of rejections, even if the initial interaction was civil.

OK Cupid’s "Incognito mode" forces users to guess if they will get that kind of reaction before they can have a conversation with that person.

* * *

The language used around this policy — as well as its enforcement — is confusing and contradictory, depending on what part of OKCupid’s site/app you are looking at.

At one point, OKCupid’s photo rules say "Photos in your Profile Photos album must be clearly and recognizably of you, and must show your face," but another section of the same page contradicts itself and says that only one photo must be of your full face.

This policy is enforced — I know someone who was locked out of their account due to this policy this month — but in the week after that occurred, I saw someone whose only profile picture is a T. Rex skull, and another verified person (which means a real OKCupid staffer checked the profile and image) whose primary profile picture included their grandchildren — not their own kids — which is also a profile pic no-no, according to OKCupid’s policy.

I have obviously obfuscated identifying details in these screenshots.

While OK Cupid’s policy and its inconsistent enforcement creates new problems, I cannot figure out what actual problem OKCupid thinks that this policy solves, or why they would choose this ham-fisted way to approach it.

Are they worried about spammers or catfishers? This policy will not stop either group in the slightest. It is easy to get a few photos of a real person.

Are they worried about "verification?" Then have the verification photo be private, and able to be used for only that purpose. I’ve seen systems like that on sites smaller than OK Cupid, so I know it can be done.

* * *

As a second sidebar, can we address the implied ableism in a statement from OKCupid’s photo rules page? Their page reads, "OkCupid is a place for making genuine connections, not a place to post anonymously. After all, it’s only fair that both people get to see what the other looks like."

It seems that despite all the quizzes and scoring and marketing, OK Cupid actually believes that it’s looks that matter and that "genuine connections" can only happen if you think someone is photogenic.

* * *

I have absolutely no problem with websites determining their policies surrounding profile photos, avatars, and usernames.

However, when those policies serve no observable purpose, are poorly enforced, and potentially expose people to harassment, stalking, or worse because of what kinds of relationships they are seeking, then those policies are inherently harmful and need to be changed or eliminated entirely.

I’ll say it again:

With dating sites (hell, dating at all), you should be able to reveal information about yourself at your own pace.

OKCupid says that their site is a place "where you can talk to other humans about things that matter to you both," and that "in all interactions consent is key."

Unless you don’t feel safe showing your entire face when OKCupid thinks you should.

* * *

[1] This is not a hypothetical. I know someone this happened to after they politely turned down an extremely crass first message. Again, this is not. a. hypothetical. situation.
[2] And that’s before counting that the UCMJ allows for prosecuting "adultery" if the commander believes it "has been prejudicial to good order and discipline and/or a discredit to the unit," and that at least some Montana Republican lawmakers want to make anything they consider "adultery" into a felony, for example.

Featured Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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