After LinkedIn, the second-least-sexy social media app has officially joined the love market. Facebook Dating, which has been available in other countries since last year, is now available in the United States in the hopes of competing with existing dating apps such as Tinder, Bumble, and OKCupid. What would the Facebook Dating system entail? It’s difficult, to use Facebook’s own terms. Though many have compared the interface to that of the dating app Hinge — which is open to users 18 and older inside the daily Facebook mobile app (in a separate tab) — the fact that Facebook is already a part of people’s lives whether they’re trying to date or not makes it a little different.
Facebook is attempting to overcome the majority of these obstacles by separating Dating from its main app as far as possible. Users must first sign up for the program, after which they must build a separate profile. Facebook Dating, for example, does not show users’ Facebook friends and allows users to exclude friends of friends from their possible matches. You may also keep some people from seeing your dating profile on Facebook. Users can, however, send messages to each other without first matching. Then there’s a feature called “Hidden Crush,” which allows you to add up to nine (!) Facebook friends or Instagram followers to a list, and you’ll both be alerted if they secretly crush you back. (The tool only works if both parties have set up Facebook Dating profiles; if you add Timothée Chalamet’s Instagram account to your Hidden Crush list, Timothée Chalamet will not be alerted, and even then, you can only do so if Timothée Chalamet is following you.)
Today also marks the official introduction of Facebook Dating’s integration with Facebook-owned Instagram. Daters can now explicitly add their Instagram posts to their profiles (as they can on Tinder and Hinge), as well as add Instagram followers to their Secret Crush list. Facebook claims that by the end of the year, users will be able to add Instagram Stories to their profiles. However, with a $5 billion FTC fine for privacy violations settled in July — the highest penalty ever levied against a tech firm — and a new antitrust investigation underway, the issue of whether Facebook is prepared to manage far more potentially even more intimate personal data is a major one.
Facebook Dating says it matches people based on what they like. But there’s obviously more to the story.
There’s a reason Facebook Dating is free and doesn’t show you ads: it’s not profitable for Facebook yet. “Facebook seems happy to let Dating serve as yet another excuse for young people to open the app and allow Facebook into their personal lives,” according to Recode. However, Facebook Dating will collect even more data from Facebook users, data that is likely to be more personal, up-to-date, and important to what people really like and think. That’s basically Facebook Dating’s pitch: Facebook knows all about you, so they’ll pair you up with a better match. The first line of the press release reads, “Facebook Dating makes it easier to find love with what you want — helping you start meaningful relationships through things you have in common, like interests, activities, and groups.”
The algorithm’s exact workings are, of course, a tightly guarded secret. Apart from gender preferences, place, and “interests and other stuff you do on Facebook,” Facebook Dating product manager Nathan Sharp told TechCrunch that you could be paired with an alumnus of the same school, even if neither of you mentioned it on your dating profiles. However, as Sarah Perez of TechCrunch points out, Facebook has a lot more useful information on people than their alma mater. “You might say you ‘love hiking’ on Tinder, but Facebook will know if you regularly participated in hiking-related groups or activities, and how frequently,” she writes. “It might also know a lot more, such as your hike check-ins, if you have mountains in your pictures, if you shared posts with the keyword ‘hiking,’ if you ‘Liked’ Facebook Pages about hiking, and so on. Facebook, on the other hand, refuses to say whether or not this type of data is used, or how it is used.”
Facebook Dating doesn’t exactly consider how people actually use Facebook
Aside from data privacy issues, Facebook Dating’s presence is perplexing for another reason: Instagram is, without a doubt, the hornier app. Its reputation as a haven for the young, affluent, and beautiful makes it a more likely dating destination, particularly since the DM slide is already a common way of shooting your shot with a potential date. It’s because “FB just wants the blue app to be about friends/people contacts and wants IG to lean more into brands/celebrities,” according to The Information reporter Alex Heath on Twitter. That appears to be in line with Facebook’s 2018 News Feed algorithm shift, which prioritized friend and community updates over news articles and videos (and thus contributed to major media industry upheaval).
What’s more, why now? When Facebook became mainstream after spreading beyond college students in 2006, its Relationship Status feature sparked a lot of debate, and it gave rise to the word “Facebook Official” for those who were finally ready to reveal their relationship to the world. There was the “Poke,” which was flirty and creepy at the same time (somehow, Poking still exists). And, as many adults’ first social networking account, Facebook was soon imbued with myths of middle-aged married people reconnecting with high school mates and cheating on their wives with old flames. If Facebook Dating was ever going to be a thing, it seems like it should have been done right from the start. Even Facebook knows this: “One of the great ironies for me is that when a lot of us entered the very first version of the app in 2004, back when it was only a handful of college students, we were sure that dating would be the next feature Facebook would add,” said Chris Cox, Facebook’s Chief Product Officer, at a conference in May 2018. “We were right, but 14 years too soon.”
Will people actually use it?
Despite its late entry into the market, Facebook Dating will profit handsomely. According to analysts, the market could be worth $12 billion by 2020, and Match Group, which owns virtually all of the most successful dating apps except Bumble, made $1.7 billion last year. And it’s possible that Facebook Dating would attract users who are turned off by other dating apps, whether it’s because of their age or preconceived ideas regarding their hookup-oriented existence. Despite Facebook’s argument that it has no plans to benefit from Facebook Dating, Recode’s Kurt Wagner predicts that it could be a multibillion-dollar industry. “According to Facebook executives, there are 200 million users on the platform who identify as ‘single.’ “While this is a small percentage of Facebook’s overall monthly users of 2.2 billion, it represents a massive potential audience for a dating service,” he writes. Tinder, on the other hand, has 3.8 million paid subscribers, and Facebook Dating will exceed that if only 2% of its single users joined. And, as Kaitlyn Tiffany of Vox pointed out, Facebook Dating may have a big benefit over other dating apps because it enables users to exclude friends of friends from their match list, preventing the awkwardness of seeing former colleagues and friends’ ex-boyfriends. According to Facebook, there have already been engagements and marriages between users of the app, and as Casey Newton of The Verge points out, “the fact that Facebook has taken the application to 20 countries in less than a year indicates that it has been popular with early users.” Match Group’s stock has fallen 4% today, probably suggesting the popularity of Facebook Dating. It’s unclear if there’s been a stampede to delete Tinder profiles in favor of Facebook Dating, but maybe that’s what Facebook is counting on: users who never downloaded Tinder in the first place.