The second-least-sexy social media app (after LinkedIn) has officially entered the business of love. Facebook Dating, which has existed in other countries since last year, launched in the US today in the hope that Facebook can compete with existing dating apps like Tinder, Bumble, and OKCupid.
How will Facebook Dating work? To use Facebook’s own words, it’s complicated. Though many have noted the aesthetic similarities between its interface — which is available to users 18 and older within the regular Facebook mobile app (in a separate tab) — and that of the dating app Hinge, the fact that Facebook is already a part of people’s lives whether they’re looking to date or not makes things a bit unusual.
Facebook is attempting to clear most of those hurdles by making Dating as separate as possible from its regular app. First and foremost, users must opt in to the service, then create an entirely distinct profile. Notably, Facebook Dating does not show users their Facebook friends, and also gives people the ability to remove friends of friends from their potential matches. You can also block specific people on Facebook from seeing your dating profile. Users can, however, message one another without matching first.
Then there’s a whole thing called “Secret Crush” where you can add up to nine (!) Facebook friends or Instagram followers to a list, and if they secretly crush you back, you’ll both get notified. (The tool only works if both people have set up Facebook Dating profiles; Timothée Chalamet will not get notified if you add his Instagram account to your Secret Crush list, and even then you can only do that if Timothée Chalamet is following you.)
Today also marks the beginning of Facebook Dating’s integration with Instagram, which is owned by Facebook. Daters can now add their Instagram posts directly to their profiles (which people have already been able to do on Tinder and Hinge) and add Instagram followers to their Secret Crush list. Facebook says it will include the ability to add Instagram Stories to profiles by the end of the year.
But with a $5 billion Federal Trade Commission fine settled in July over privacy concerns — the largest penalty ever against a tech company — and a new antitrust investigation ongoing, the question of whether Facebook is equipped to handle even more potentially far more intimate personal data is a big one.
Facebook Dating says it matches people based on what they like. But there’s obviously more to the story.
There’s a reason why Facebook Dating is free, nor does it show you ads: Facebook isn’t making money on it — yet. As Recode notes, “Facebook seems content to let Dating serve as yet another reason for young people to open the app and allow Facebook into their personal lives.”
But Facebook Dating will also gather even more information from Facebook users, information that will presumably be more intimate, up to date, and relevant to what people actually like and think. That’s essentially the sales pitch of Facebook Dating: Facebook has more data on you, so they’ll pair you up with a better match. “Facebook Dating makes it easier to find love through what you like — helping you start meaningful relationships through things you have in common, like interests, events and groups,” reads the first line of the press release.
How exactly the algorithm works is, of course, a secret. Aside from gender preferences, location, and “interests and other things you do on Facebook,” Facebook Dating product manager Nathan Sharp told TechCrunch that, for instance, you might get matched up with an alumnus of your same school, even if neither of you included that school on your dating profiles.
As TechCrunch reporter Sarah Perez notes, however, Facebook obviously has way more relevant information on people beyond their alma mater. “On Tinder, you may write that you ‘love hiking,’ but Facebook would know if you actually participated in hiking-related groups or events, and how often,” she writes. “It may know a lot more, too — like your check-ins to hiking trails, if there are mountains in your photos, if you posted updates with the keyword ‘hiking,’ if you ‘Liked’ Facebook Pages about hiking, etc. But Facebook won’t confirm if this sort of data is used or how.”
Facebook Dating doesn’t exactly consider how people actually use Facebook
Data privacy concerns aside, Facebook Dating’s existence is confounding for a different reason: Instagram is the objectively hornier app. Its reputation as a sanctuary for the young, wealthy, and beautiful makes it the more likely destination for dating, considering the DM slide is already a frequently used method of shooting your shot with a potential date.
The Information reporter Alex Heath posited on Twitter that it’s because “FB really wants the blue app to be about friends/people connections and wants IG to lean more into brands/celebs.” That would seem to jibe with Facebook’s 2018 algorithm change to its News Feed, which prioritized friends and group updates over news articles and videos (which in turn helped contribute to massive upset in the media industry).
Plus, why now? When Facebook gained popularity after expanding to people beyond college students in 2006, its Relationship Status feature was the subject of plenty of cultural discussion; it gave rise to the term “Facebook Official” for those who were finally ready to announce their couplehood to the world. There was the “Poke,” which straddled the line between flirty and creepy (somehow, Poking still exists). And when Facebook became the first social media account for many adults, it was quickly imbued with stereotypes around middle-aged married folks reconnecting with high school friends and cheating on their spouses with old flames. If Facebook Dating were ever going to be a thing, it seems like it should have happened in the very beginning.
Even Facebook admits this: “One of the great ironies for me is that when a lot of us joined the very first version of the service in 2004, back when it was just a handful of college students, we were convinced that dating would be the next feature Facebook was going to add,” said Facebook’s Chief Product Officer Chris Cox at a conference in May 2018. “We were right, just 14 years too early.”
Will people actually use it?
Despite its lateness to the game, Facebook Dating will tap into a wildly lucrative market. Analysts estimate the market could be worth $12 billion by 2020, and Match Group, which owns nearly all of the most popular dating apps besides Bumble, pulled in $1.7 billion in revenue last year. And perhaps Facebook Dating will court the kinds of users who are turned off by other dating apps, be it due to age or preconceived notions about their hookup-oriented nature.
Even though Facebook has said it does not plan to make money on Facebook Dating, Recode’s Kurt Wagner estimated that it could be a multibillion dollar business. “Facebook executives say that there are 200 million people on Facebook who identify as ‘single.’ That’s a relatively small percentage of Facebook’s 2.2 billion total monthly users, but it’s an enormous potential audience for a dating service,” he writes. Tinder, meanwhile, has 3.8 million paying subscribers, and if just 2 percent of its single users joined Facebook Dating, it would surpass that.
And as Kaitlyn Tiffany noted for Vox, Facebook Dating could have a major leg up on other dating apps for one very important reason: In giving users the ability to remove friends of friends from their match pool, they can avoid the weirdness of seeing their former coworkers and friends’ ex-boyfriends.
Facebook claims there have already been engagements and marriages that have taken place between people on the app, and as The Verge’s Casey Newton says, “the fact that Facebook has brought the product to 20 countries in under a year suggests that it has been popular with early users.” In another possible clue of the success of Facebook Dating, shares of Match Group dropped 4 percent today. Whether there’s been a mass rush to delete Tinder profiles in favor of Facebook Dating seems doubtful, but maybe that’s what Facebook is banking on: the people who never downloaded Tinder in the first place.
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