OKCupid just announced that they’re not going to allow made up names anymore.
Note: As people are freaking out and deleting accounts en masse, they are editing this blog post to slightly change the policy. This blog post was written when OKC said they were going to force real names only.
This is a huge mistake.
When I last did online dating, I was happy to hide behind the OKCupid username “UXChick” (I don’t mind telling you this now!) and a VOIP phone number rather than my real cell phone number. I used the zip code of the town NEXT to the one I lived in.
Why. Because online dating can be a great magnet for unsafe situations. So unsafe that I spent 5 years working on my Silicon Valley startup that was designed to make online dating (and other activities) safer for everybody but especially women.
You know I’m Debbie Levitt. This is my business. You hire me, you read this site, you know my name. But should everybody who stops by my OKCupid profile account know my real name? Should someone who knows me from my business world now see my profile and answers on a dating site? I didn’t answer the sexual questions but some of those questions were rather… revealing.
My profile is my story… and now you have my real name. And my photo? Holy cats!
Every person on OKCupid would be the easiest person to stalk, if someone chose to do that. Before, you had a picture of me (though I chose one where I was wearing so much winter gear that you can barely see my face… and I chose that on purpose… and that was my only pic). You might know some things I’m into. Maybe even my fave places to go or hang out. I might have been honest about what zip code I lived in.
Now you have my real name. Start Googling me and you will find LinkedIn… where I work. You might find Facebook. You might find a variety of other things. Public records of where I live. And these aren’t even hard to find! If I still had a dog, you might see me out walking my dog near where I live because you now have my address.
I had put in effort. I had put in a fake zip code, a VOIP phone number, and a pic that didn’t show you much about me. But once you have my name and you start Googling, you could be standing outside my house in about 30 minutes. Some site called MyLife appears to have an old photo of me, an old job title, my previous address, etc… This is just TOO EASY.
Not all people on online dating are wonderful upstanding peeps.
Let me tell you about the time I went out with a guy from OKCupid and he told me his business idea. It was ILLEGAL. And he then announced that I would be his business consultant. He will call me for business advice, which I would give him for free because we’re now friends. I kept telling him, no, your business idea is illegal, I would charge you for consulting, and I won’t help you with this business because it’s illegal. NO, he told me, he was SURE that I would help him and for free, and SURE that we were now friends.
A guy who doesn’t hear, “no,” is a potentially dangerous guy. I pulled out my inner New Yorker and said, “LOOK. We are not friends and we’re not going to be friends. This evening is over. I’ll pay for the appetizers. I’m going to the bathroom and when I come back, you won’t be here.” “That’s it?” he said. “THAT’S IT.” And I went to the bathroom. And he was gone.
Or how about the time a guy saw my (fake) zip code and decided OH you must live in the apartments near the BART station. Gulp. Glad I gave him the wrong zip code. Don’t need some guy standing outside those apartments trying to match up the face.
Here’s a worse one.
One time, an OKCupid guy and I were planning a date. I was like hey, let’s just meet at Starbucks. He was like no, let’s go for a walk somewhere. He describes where and when.
Long story short, my final reply was, “You want to go on a walk with me at night in the dark on an unnamed dirt path in a remote part of town? Definitely not.”
How lucky was I that he only knew me as BusyCEO (my old old old OKCupid name) and otherwise had NO real information about me? Because this guy doesn’t sound well. Or safe.
And this guy might know my real name? Is OKCupid going to protect me? I bet not.
And it’s not just women’s safety or privacy.
The guy I met on OKCupid and then dated when I was “BusyCEO” didn’t even want to give me his first name until we met. He signed everything, “G” and was afraid that due to his uncommon first name, he would be too easy to Google.
It’s not just women who think about safety and privacy. Everybody SHOULD think about safety.
This decision is a safety disaster… and might have kept me from meeting the man I’m with now.
I’ve emailed OKCupid about this. Yes, I’m worried about safety. But guess what. I found the man of my dreams on OKCupid this year partially because of the username he picked. It included the word, “Cloudbusting,” which was a Kate Bush song… and I’m a GIANT Kate Bush fan. That name alone got my attention. My first message to him was, “If your name is a Kate Bush reference, hello. If it’s not a Kate Bush reference, hello.” That was my whole message and the rest is past, present, and future.
Someone is going to miss out on their Cloudbusting guy. And that’s a shame! My life has been so hugely changed in so many ways because of this wonderful, loving, high empathy, adventurous, kind, fun man.
But I’m concerned about safety. I am lucky that I have not been attacked. Maybe it’s luck. But I also work hard at whatever I can control. I use the wrong zip code, a VOIP phone number, I didn’t mention where I worked in my dating profile (just general industry). I used a photo I hadn’t posted anywhere else so it wouldn’t show up in Google reverse image search. I didn’t list any places I liked to hang out or specific fave restaurants. I only gave people my first name… and I struggled with whether or not I give them my real first name for the first date.
I’m working hard for my safety and in some ways, my privacy. OKCupid will destroy all of that effort when it makes everybody show their real names. OKCupid says they want to get rid of stupid, offensive, or highly sexual names. Then create name rules. You can’t have “horny” in your name. Or “69.” Or whatever they find so troubling. OKCupid is famous for their amazing data. You know what names you hate and every variation they come in. Block those and let the rest of us be UXChick and Cloudbusting (plus non-69 numbers).
I believe OKCupid will undo this rule. Facebook had to back off their real name policy when there was a backlash. Now they say your name has to be something people in real life know you by. Which isn’t necessary for Facebook (though that’s another blog post). OKCupid should consider safety, privacy, and anonymity, especially given what today’s dating world is truly like for so many of us.