Just a few weeks after the Cambridge Analytica scandal left users feeling iffy about Facebook and the way the company uses their data, Mark Zuckerberg announced a dating app is coming.
Yes, this is the same Facebook who admitted its mistakes led to a company gathering data on tens of millions of users. Sure, the system has changed since the incident, but the privacy concern is still there. The company gives users some control over what happens with their data, saying on repeat that “users own the data,” but the truth is that the company is the one that actually uses the data, making money off of it.
During his interviews with US lawmakers, Zuckerberg kept saying that Facebook isn’t selling user data to marketers, but the truth is somewhere in between. Sure, marketers don’t get their hands on the info, but the company uses user data profiles to target their ads for them. Users don’t make a penny off their data, but Facebook makes billions in ad revenues.
Facebook, however, swears up and down that their new dating app will offer complete privacy. How? Well, it won’t ever match you to one of your Facebook friends, and none of your data will get posted publicly on the social network. Similarly, users of the dating app won’t have access to your Facebook profile.
The 200 million bet
Why is Facebook doing this? Well, out of the goodness of their heart, of course. No, really, they’re doing it because of money. “There are 200 million people on Facebook who list themselves as single,” said Zuckerberg. That’s 200 million opportunities to raise the revenues even more. For a while now, Facebook’s number of users has pretty much reached the ceiling; there’s little place left to go. Sure, more people will join the platform, but there are only about 3 billion Internet users in the world, and those that aren’t on Facebook already don’t seem to be in a hurry to sign up.
Therefore, a dating app means a new platform where Facebook can push ads. The dating tool is supposed to focus on long-term relationships, not just hook-ups. Given how about half of Facebook’s users are over 35, the focus of the new tool makes sense.
It also means it’s not a direct competitor to the likes of Tinder, which is mostly used by people 18 to 35 and which focuses on hook-ups. But it is a competitor for the likes of Match.com, or OKCupid, and so on. Match, the company behind OkCupid, PlentyOfFish, Tinder, and Match.com lost 22% of its stock market value by the end of the day of Facebook’s announcement.
Facebook says the app’s algorithm will mirror the way people actually date, which is usually at events and institutions that they are connected to. They’re also promising full privacy, but we know that’s not going to happen.
Whether users themselves mix the public platform for the dating app, or the company’s servers leak some of the data, you know something’s going to happen to mess with that expected privacy. It’s not exactly difficult to make a mistake in separating private life and business life.
There’s also the ever-growing risk of hackers. Now that your Facebook account will be linked, even on the company’s servers, to a dating profile, the risk of everything becoming public in case of a data breach is even higher. Remember the 2015 hack of Ashley Madison platform? That platform was dedicated to extramarital affairs and the breach exposed millions of people, but the numbers aren’t even close to what Facebook could gather in a short amount of time.
The psychology of online dating
The world today is vastly different than it was a couple of decades ago, and online dating has become a lot more socially acceptable than it used to be. In the fast-paced lives of today, people don’t have the time to meet others face to face as much as they used to. Since technology is here to help us in every aspect of our lives, there’s no surprise that it’s also present in our dating lives.
But how does online dating compare to traditional dating? Well, experts say that there’s not really that much of a difference. Much like in real life, online dating is based on mutual attraction. So, with tools like Tinder, you get to see someone’s picture, read a couple of lines about them, and quickly decide whether you’d be interested in finding more.
What does change, however, is how people court each other. “Technology is dramatically changing how we court, but it can’t change the brain systems for romance and attachment,” said biological anthropologist Dr. Helen Fisher from Match.com.
Talking about courtship, this is the sketchy part. Nowadays, many believe said courtship must include various nude pictures, something that Facebook frowns upon. When I say “frowns upon” I mean “bans.” Even if you’re having private conversations, you can get your account blocked if you share naked pictures. That’s just how the Facebook rules are.
So how is Facebook going to reconcile its rules on nudity and grownup conversations with new dating app? Obviously, some chats between people looking to form a longterm relationship will eventually include explicit content.
There’s also the other side of the coin… how is the company going to keep its new platform free from abuse and uninvited dick pics? It’s certainly going to have a new policy in place, but is it going to be able to reconcile everyone? Quite unlikely, but then again, if you don’t like it, don’t use it.