Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Dismissed Tinder Cofounder As Irrelevant But Still Let Dating App Get Special Access To Users’ Data

According to leaked emails between top executives, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg considered joining the online dating market as early as 2014, but he placed the idea on hold instead of giving Tinder exclusive access to its users’ info.

Despite the favorable treatment, Zuckerberg declined to meet with Tinder cofounder Sean Rad, stating, “I don’t think he’s that important.” He’s probably just trying to see if we’re going to turn off their API.”

The leaked correspondence, which was made public on Wednesday, is part of a long-running legal battle between Facebook and Six4Three, a now-defunct app developer that sued Facebook in 2015 for limiting user data access, arguing that the acts were anticompetitive. These documents were “taken out of context by those with a bias against Facebook,” according to a Facebook spokesperson. Facebook is facing several antitrust investigations.

The documents shed new light on Facebook’s plans to enter the multibillion-dollar dating industry, a move that dragged down Match Group, the parent company of Tinder and Match.com, when Zuckerberg finally launched Facebook Dating in September. With advanced features that take advantage of its 2.4 billion user network, the free service borrows elements from common dating apps Hinge, Bumble, and Tinder.

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The correspondence also reveals how dangerously close Tinder came to losing key access to Facebook user information, which aided Tinder’s rapid growth in its early years when users often accessed the app using their Facebook logins. After the Cambridge Analytica controversy erupted in March 2018, Facebook tightened the restrictions on what details third-party applications could access. Tinder’s app crashed.

According to an email exchange between Monika Bickert, the current head of global policy management at Facebook, and Mike Vernal, a former Facebook executive who was then vice president of search, the dating app is known for its “swipe right” feature was on Facebook’s radar in 2013, the year after it launched. In response to a note, Bickert posted about the regulation of “sexually themed applications,” Vernal wrote, “I saw some folks complain about Tinder.”

“I know a few people who think this app is very cool / has a lot of potentials, so please let me know before we take any compliance action against them. ”

The following year, Zuckerberg imagined how a Facebook competitor would look.

“Because [Facebook] isn’t specifically a dating site, there’s no stigma associated with being a member,” Zuckerberg wrote. “I bet Facebook starts more dates and relationships than all the other dating sites combined.”

That same year, he expressed concern that Tinder was rising too rapidly at the cost of Facebook, echoing fears expressed by executives at the time about other apps such as Vine. “I’ve been thinking a lot about Tinder,” Zuckerberg wrote to two executives in January 2014. “I’m concerned about Tinder’s growth because their product is entirely based on Facebook data, and it’s far superior to anything we’ve developed for recommendation using the same corpus.”

Tinder was only one of the thousands of developers with access to vast quantities of data about Facebook users and their families, from game developer Zynga to music sharing app Spotify.

In 2014, Facebook revealed that third-party app developers would no longer be able to access data on users’ contacts, such as birth dates, pictures, and pages they liked. Developers have until May 2015 to comply with the company’s latest set of access regulations.

Documents indicate that Zuckerberg and other Facebook executives made exceptions for some businesses and applications. One of them was Tinder. According to the records, Facebook agreed to grant Tinder a special data-sharing deal, known internally as “whitelists,” in return for the dating app sharing trademark rights on “MOMENTS,” the proposed name for a photo app that Facebook intended to launch, according to an email exchange from March 2015.

“Facebook’s decision to grant Tinder exclusive access to data previously unavailable to other developers presents ‘value we believe is much greater than [Tinder’s] trademark,’” wrote Konstantinos Papamiltiadis, Facebook’s current director of platform partnerships.

“Tinder never received special care, data, or access relevant to this dispute or its resolution,” a spokeswoman for Tinder at the time said when asked about the agreement.

The emails and messages are among nearly 7,000 pages of internal Facebook documents that were leaked to Duncan Campbell in February 2019 but only recently made public. Campbell is an investigative journalist and forensic specialist based in Ireland, according to his website.

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Following the Cambridge Analytica debacle in March 2018, the US government initiated a multipronged attack on Facebook over how it treats user data and privacy. A former employee of Cambridge Analytica, a British political consulting company that had President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign as a client, disclosed that his former employer had purchased data on 87 million Facebook users in an improper manner.

As a result of the incident, Zuckerberg testified before Congress. Several federal and state authorities have conducted investigations into Facebook in the months since, on grounds ranging from anticompetitive conduct to breaching consumer privacy laws.

Bumble, Badoo, Coffee Meets Bagel, Hinge, and jswipe are some of the other online dating applications that have whitelist agreements with Facebook.

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