Friends With Benefits: Facebook Dating Launches in US

After years of privacy missteps by the social network, will people trust it with their love lives?

Facebook Dating
AP

Facebook is tackling a new frontier: love.

Facebook Dating, a matchmaking service the company already offers in Brazil, Canada and 17 other countries, arrives in the U.S. on Thursday. But after years of privacy missteps by the social network, will people trust it with their love lives?

For a company that's also developing its own digital currency and dabbling in e-commerce, love is another step toward reaching into all aspects of human existence.

Although many aspects of Facebook Dating resemble what other matchmaking services offer, Facebook's version promises to be different, just as Tinder did before it with its swipe action and Bumble with its female-first messaging. Your Facebook Dating profile will be separate from your main one, but it will tap existing features such as events and groups, as well as your network of friends to identify "secret crushes."

Facebook Dating, while being free to use and free of ads, can still help Facebook make money if it keeps people glued to its other services longer.

That's if users can get over concerns about privacy.

"A feature on Facebook that people don't trust isn't going to be successful," said Rob Sherman, the company's deputy chief privacy officer. "We built in privacy from the ground up."

Tell that to Seth Carter, 32, an engineer from Terre Haute, Indiana, who tried a host of dating apps ranging from Match to Bumble, Tinder and Christian Mingle prior to his current relationship.

"Facebook is here to make money and I get that," he said. But he worries that Facebook's stated commitment to privacy would ultimately buckle under pressure to make money off the service. "That likely means they're going to sell my dating preferences, which means even more intrusions into my life."

Facebook says it won't be doing any of that. But users like Carter can hardly be blamed for their apprehension, given the company's multiple stumbles over protecting people's private information. Facebook was fined a record $5 billion this summer by the Federal Trade Commission over privacy violations. It's also under scrutiny for allowing for the spread of election-related misinformation and discrimination in U.S. housing ads.

Facebook Dating has been more than a year coming, a slow rollout for a company still trying to shake off its old "move fast and break things" ethos.

It comes as the popularity of online dating grows: In 2016, 15% of all U.S. adults said they had used online dating services, up from virtually none in 2005, per the Pew Research Center.

From old school sites like eHarmony to Hinge or The League, a members-only service promising to bring together folks with "ambition and a drive to succeed," there are also apps focused on farmers, religious groups, seniors, the LGBT community and so on.

When he announced the feature last year, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Facebook Dating is "not just for hookups" but to build "meaningful, long-term relationships."

Ready to find meaning and love the Facebook way? You'll start by creating a dating profile distinct from your regular Facebook profile. It won't suggest your friends as people you might want to date. Your dating profile also won't show up on your news feed or be visible to friends; it's only for others using the dating service. There is no Tinder-like swiping. If you like someone, you can "like" them by tapping a heart icon. "X'' marks a dislike.

Facebook insists it won't use information gleaned from users' dating profiles for advertising and says there won't be ads on Facebook Dating. It has also built in features designed to prevent unwanted messages, photos and spam. For instance, users can message anyone else — but only once unless they get a response. Facebook also won't allow lonely hearts — or creeps — to send photos or website links, which could help cut down on unsolicited body-part photos.

Users can also share their live location with friends while they go out on a date, a feature Facebook says has been popular in countries such as Colombia and Thailand.

To help people meet offline and share interests, Facebook's dating app will also push other Facebook features, such as its events and groups. For instance, if you and a match are both going to a concert, you can make plans to meet up there. (These options require you to intentionally activate them.) It will also be linked with Instagram, so you can add up to 36 of profile pictures from the photo-sharing app to your Facebook Dating profile.

There's also "secret crush," for those harboring hidden passions for their existing Facebook friends. Users can pick up to nine of them to indicate a crush. If any of those people are also on Facebook Dating and there's a mutual crush, both parties will be notified. Otherwise, Facebook says, the crush remains secret.

But if it doesn't — and based on Facebook's history with users' private information, that's certainly a possibility — prepare to be embarrassed. 

Shares of the dating-site company Match fell more than 4 percent Thursday on news of Facebook Dating, CNBC reported

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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