Time to swipe left on Tinder? Facebook wants some action in the online dating game

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Facebook announces new dating feature
WATCH: Move over! Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Tuesday a new dating feature at the company's developers conference – May 1, 2018

Facebook recently announced that it’ll be jumping aboard the online dating craze with the launch of new features on its platform.

Facebook executives trotted out fun features including a “clear browser history” option and most notably a new dating service aimed at building “meaningful, long-term relationships,” in a swipe at sites like Tinder. After Facebook announced its entry into the online dating game, shares of Tinder owner Match Group Inc ( plummeted 22 per cent.

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CEO Mark Zuckerberg said to laughs at Facebook’s f8 developer conference Tuesday that the new tool is “not just for hookups.”

According to a post on Facebook’s official blog, the new service will allow users to create a dating profile that’s separate from their Facebook profile, and potential matches will be recommended based on dating preferences, things in common and mutual friends.

What people do in the dating feature will not be shown to their friends. Testing for the new features will begin later this year.

Peter Chow-White, the director of the Genomics and Network Analytics (GeNA) Lab at Simon Fraser University said in an interview that the company’s “connecting people” motto makes it logical for Facebook to expand into online dating, it’s still “surprising” considering the company’s recent data scandal.

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Just a mere few months ago, Facebook was plagued by allegations that it mishandled user data after it was revealed that a third-party app was allowed to access almost 100-million Facebook profiles, and provide that information to an analytics firm called Cambridge Analytica.

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“It’s still a bit surprising considering the Cambridge Analytica revelations that happened not too long ago and about protection and privacy of information, that they would be dipping into the dating apps. It seems to be an odd time to be doing that,” said Chow-White.

He added that Facebook’s business model relies on collecting the information of users, which it then sells to advertisers for the sake of providing targeted content. He noted however, that Facebook’s recent track record of protecting data may give some users pause before trying out these new features.

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“Their business model is to bring people in – to offer them these platforms in order to turn them into data that they can sell to advertisers for the most part. But as we found out recently, they don’t just sell them to advertisers, they sell them to anybody,” said Chow-White.

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“That raises a lot of concerns. Do people want groups like Cambridge Analytica to know about their dating habits, who they’re seeing, who they’re not seeing, their relationship status and things like that?”

Chow-White isn’t the only one to highlight his discomfort. The CEO of IAC, the majority owner of Match Group, issued a statement to CNN saying, “Come on in. The water’s warm. Their product could be great for U.S./Russia relationships.”

In addition, the CEO of Match Group, Mandy Ginsberg, issued the following statement to CNN after Facebook made its announcement.

“We’re flattered that Facebook is coming into our space – and sees the global opportunity that we do – as Tinder continues to skyrocket. We’re surprised at the timing, given the amount of personal and sensitive data that comes with this territory. Regardless, we’re going to continue to delight our users through product innovation and relentless focus on relationship access. We understand this category better than anyone. Facebook’s entry will only be invigorating to all of us.”

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Chow-White went on to add however, that the tendency of people to keep their use of online dating services private might also prevent users from jumping at these new features.

“So you can see, when people go dating and they’re on dating apps, it’s not something that they’re advertising to their family and their friends necessarily. So there’s a separation between your social life and your dating life,” he explained. “I think it will make people very uncomfortable.”

In simplest terms however, he concluded that while this new feature is “interesting,” “innovating,” and “exciting,” in his mind, “it doesn’t really pass the creepy test.”

Users, he explained, are increasingly more aware and concerned about their own digital privacy. While social media giants continue to move the bar, Chow-White stated that recent privacy scandals such as the Cambridge Analytica incident have prompted people not only to throttle their Facebook use, but to seek out other technologies that more securely store their data.

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“The system uses us more than we use the system.”

We may reach a point, he concludes, “where we get to hold on to our data and license it to these platforms, rather than giving it up and letting them do whatever they want with it.”

-With files from the Associated Press. 

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