It’s Facebook official: The social media network’s foray into online dating

By Ellen Daniel

In 2003, student Mark Zuckerberg launched Facesmash, a website that allowed his fellow students at Harvard University to choose the “hottest” of two people based on photos. 16 years later, Facebook appears to have come full circle.

Yesterday, the social media giant announced that it is entering the online dating market, predicted to be worth $3.2bn in the US by 2020.

Initially launching in the US (as well as some countries in South America and Asia), Facebook Dating gives users the ability to create a separate dating profile within the Facebook app, from which they can like and comment on the profiles of others who have opted in (excluding their Facebook friends) based on “preferences, interests and other things you do on Facebook”.

Perhaps the most novel feature of Facebook’s foray into the world of online dating is the option for users to select up to nine of their Facebook friends or Instagram followers as their “Secret Crush”, who will receive an anonymous notification (provided they are signed up to Facebook Dating).

Facebook has also said that Facebook Dating will include a number of safety features such as the option for users to share their location with chosen friends when meeting up with anyone through the service.

Privacy concerns

Given that around 40% of US couples met via online dating, according to Quartz, it comes as no surprise that Facebook would be keen to expand into this lucrative area.

However, despite assurance that “safety, security and privacy are at the forefront of this product” and that all dating activity will “stay in Facebook Dating”, given Facebook’s track record with user data, convincing users to share details of their dating lives may be a challenge.

Just yesterday, it emerged that Facebook had left an online server containing over 419 million phone numbers exposed without a password, casting doubt over whether Facebook is up to the task of keeping users’ dating lives a secret.

What’s in it for Facebook?

So what is in it for Facebook? Another avenue for the company to glean even more about users’ personal lives is clearly a goldmine for advertisers, with users are able to opt into Events and Groups to see people with similar interests. Facebook says it doesn’t have plans to monetise Facebook Dating, and that it won’t include ads, but with the phrase “if something is free you are the product” so frequently applied to social media, it is unlikely that this will always remain the case.

Eve Lee, founder and CEO of marketing agency The Digital Fairy said:

“It remains to be seen however if Facebook can avoid the potential pitfalls that Dating presents in the longer term. How the algorithm will structure your feed for example, or if your intimate dating data remains private.

“Moreover, at some point, Facebook will have to monetise Dating. Our suggestion is that, before that point, Facebook has really demonstrated how user data can be deployed to drive real human connection. The potential for positive impact here is massive – let’s hope Facebook delivers on it.”

One up on the competition

Despite the popularity of dating apps such as Tinder, Facebook’s ability to paint a more complete picture of users’ likes, dislikes and social interactions puts it in a strong position. Although Facebook’s impact on the world of online dating remains to be seen, Match Group, which owns OkCupid, PlentyOfFish, Tinder and saw its shares drop following the announcement.

According to Wired, The company says it has no current plans to stop apps such as Bumble and Tinder using Facebook’s data to tell users if they have friends in common with someone they match with, or apps that use its API.

However, growing numbers of young people are falling out of love with the platform, with eMarketer predicting that two million under-25s could have left the social media site in 2018 alone. Facebook may also struggle to capture the attention of the key demographic for online dating and the one that uses Tinder the most, with a quarter of 25-34 year olds using the app.

Keeping users faithful to the Facebook ecosystem

However, rather than luring back those who have abandoned the platform, the information Facebook has given about its plans for Facebook Dating hints that it is part of a larger aim of further merging users’ online activities.

After announcing plans to merge Instagram, Whatsapp and Facebook messenger in January, Facebook has made clear its intentions to integrating all of its products onto one ecosystem, with different branches operating more as micro-sites within a Facebook platform. Anyone who signs up will be able to integrate what they post on Instagram with their Facebook Dating profile, with plans to incorporate Facebook and Instagram Stories into the platform soon.

Allowing users to carry out all their online activities without needing to leave the platform is the Holy Grail of social networking, and by infiltrating one of the most personal aspects of users’ lives, Facebook may be one step closer to achieving that.

Read more: Could dating apps be key to Snapchat’s happy ending?