There’s a new dating service in town, but you’ll recognize the company behind it: Facebook.
The social media giant launched a matchmaking service in the United States last week, despite its spotty record with privacy, advertising and disinformation.
Users 18 and up can now opt into Facebook Dating from the main menu on their app or desktop, creating a new profile separate from the one their friends currently see. After that, Facebook suggests matches to other users based on “preferences, interests and other things you do on Facebook.” Those suggestions do not include existing Facebook friends.
Forget swiping left or right: Facebook daters comment directly on the profile or use the traditional “like” button.
There’s also a “Secret Crush” feature that allows the user to select up to nine Facebook friends or Instagram followers. If one of those individuals also uses Facebook Dating and has added the user to their Secret Crush list, a notification is sent to both individuals.
A matter of trust
Facebook says the new service will give its users a better chance to get to know potential matches’ authentic selves. But it’s unclear how many users will trust Facebook, the world’s largest social media platform with 1.2 billion daily users, with powering their love lives.
That’s in large part because the company has come under fire in recent years for multiple scandals involving misinformation, fake accounts and breaches of trust. A 2016 ProPublica investigation found that Facebook allowed advertisers to exclude users by race. In 2018, a whistleblower revealed that Facebook allowed political consultancy Cambridge Analytica to improperly access data from millions of users. Late last year, the New York Times reported that Facebook had hired an opposition research firm to discredit critics by linking them to philanthropist George Soros.
On Wednesday, TechCrunch reported a security researcher found an easily accessible database online containing hundreds of millions of phone numbers associated with Facebook accounts.
While other dating apps and sites have built a $3 billion industry using personality data for matching and marketing purposes, experts worry that Facebook — with its enormous audience and sophisticated ad-targeting platform — could amplify opportunities for abuse.
A scamming problem already exists on the platform, privacy watchdogs say. The new service could expose users to additional hoaxes including those who disguise their identity to prey on susceptible people. It could also result in helping advertisers use sensitive information to target vulnerable individuals.
Designed with ‘safety, security and privacy’ in mind
In a blog post, Nathan Sharp, Facebook Dating’s product manager, wrote that “Safety, security and privacy are at the forefront of this product," and that the design of the service includes the ability to report and block any user, a prohibition on sending photos, videos or payments over messages, and easily accessible safety tips.
The service, which was announced more than a year ago, is now available in 19 countries including Canada, Mexico, Brazil and the Philippines. It’s coming to Europe by early next year.
The new service could also heighten another common problem in the online dating world: an increasing prioritization of physical attractiveness over other important qualities, said Marsha Winer, owner of the San Francisco-based matchmaking service Introductions by Marsha.
That’s a trend she’s seen accelerate over her 36 years in the business as more and more apps focus on choosing a partner largely based on profile photos. She believes Facebook Dating will encourage more of the same. Single people nowadays, said Winer, “put so much emphasis on the picture.”
“They’re discounting so many good possibilities,” she added.