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Facebook officially adds dating service

Last week, to some fanfare, Facebook announced the launch of Facebook Dating in the United States. I admit when I saw the press release, I wasn’t shocked.

First, let’s be honest, Facebook has been a dating platform unofficially for a long time. If you’re unaware of folks who use the service to scout would-be romantic partners, you’re not very observant. In fact, I suspect you’ve all heard someone say, “I’ll check them out on Facebook first,” when a prospective dating opportunity surfaces.

Given the number of divorce cases that I’ve assisted attorneys with over the past decade, Facebook might also be not only a “dating platform”, but rather a conduit for divorce. With the rise of FOMO (fear of missing out) among dedicated users of social media services, the anxiety of not being able to participate in an upcoming event, might also include the fear of missing out on the next best partner.

And let’s not forget that Facebook is a company. Facebook is a large publicly-traded company, with the majority of its revenues coming from advertisements. Growth of Facebook’s core application has slowed in recent years. In fact, some surveys reveal that those under the age of 30 have deleted Facebook and simply don’t have any interest in it.

So, if you’re in the business of selling advertisements based on user interactions and other behaviors, a dwindling user base isn’t good for future growth.

What is appealing to the under-30 demographic?

Apparently dating apps are very popular, and that particular demographic is very likely to be single – enter Facebook Dating and Facebook’s Instagram. Instagram is very popular with younger generations; hence, the very clear comment from Facebook Dating is integrated with Instagram. Go to where the business is.

So for years, Facebook has been the go-to location to “secretly” seek a romantic interest. Now that Facebook is officially in the dating business, what does that mean?

For users aged 18 and over, Facebook Dating is available.  The product resides within the existing Facebook app, no need to install a new app. However, Facebook requires that you set up a separate profile for the dating service. When you create the new dating profile, Facebook indicates that the only information populated from your traditional account is your name and age.

Employing Facebook’s extensive wealth of data and algorithms, potential matches, based additionally on your location, preferences and a handful of other conditions, will surface. If you don’t see any interesting suggestions, Facebook will allow you to enable other features that review people who attend the same Facebook events or participate in the same Facebook groups. However, by default, the dating service isn’t supposed to match you to your existing friends.

Instagram posts can be activated and included in dating profiles as well. One of the interesting features of Facebook Dating is called Secret Crush.

With this feature, you direct Facebook to bypass their intention to keep your friends from becoming romantic interests. With Secret Crush, you can select up to nine Facebook friends and express a new interest in them – yeah, all nine, if you want. Your friend is supposed to be unaware of the crush, unless the friend also adds you to the secret crush list; if the digital crush interests align, Facebook will match you and dialog and interaction opportunities surface. With the Instagram integration, you can send the same type of “crush” announcement secretly. However, if the crush matches don’t reciprocate, nothing is supposed to happen. So, despite the deep analysis, you could randomly select your friends and see who else is scouting for a secret crush. But keep in mind, you’re only allowed nine at a time.

Unlike other dating apps, Facebook does allow you to turn off matching with friends and friends of friends, so perhaps you can avoid the awkwardness of being digitally chased by those with whom you already have an existing online social association. Furthermore, Facebook will allow you to block people from seeing your Facebook Dating profile, while continuing to allow them to see your regular Facebook or Instagram accounts.

Another safety feature is location sharing. If you decide to meet someone in person, Facebook will allow you to open Facebook Messenger from Facebook Dating and tell a friend the name of the person you’re going to meet. Notification reminders will announce your location and the service will continue to update the location for an hour.

Match currently dominates the online dating market in the US. Match owns the popular Match.com, Tinder, and others. Facebook Dating is seen as a possible threat to their business models. Facebook Dating is free, included within the Facebook interfaces and offers many of the features Match charges a premium for.

Others suggest that those who use online dating might avoid Facebook Dating because of the unity with Facebook. By paying for a service such as Match, there’s an inherent understanding of what you expect, and the contract associated with the dating service – it’s a specific purchase. Given Facebook’s struggles with privacy and their business model,  I can relate to those who harbor suspicions about Facebook’s intent with the new treasure of information they learn about how people connect.

Facebook states that they will not use the Dating service to inform advertising.

I’m skeptical.

A company so embattled with privacy scandals and penalties would not be my go-to for trust, especially with something so remarkably intimate and personal as finding love.

Quite simply, Facebook has a terrible record of keeping data safe and private.

Facebook has failed to keep user’s phone numbers secret recently. Do you really want to trust them to conceal the name of your secret crush?

Scams pollute Facebook already, and the introduction of dating within the environment will likely result in a growth romance scams. Given Facebook’s track record, I’d offer that if online dating is for you, I’d suggest other apps, or minimally, avoid being one of those on the bleeding edge of Facebook’s Dating service.