Still grappling with the fallout from a data privacy scandal, Facebook Inc. has unveiled a new feature it hopes will encourage users to share their most intimate personal details on the social-media platform – dating.
Chief executive Mark Zuckerberg told Facebook’s annual developers conference in downtown San Jose, Calif., that the social-media giant will launch a service that will allow users to create separate dating profiles.
The feature, which doesn’t yet have a launch date, would also match users to local events and groups with similar interests and allow them to “unlock” their dating profile to chat with others on Facebook’s messaging service, Messenger.
The service will include several features Mr. Zuckerberg said were built with “privacy and safety in mind,” including requiring users to opt-in to the dating app. The service will show only users’ first names, won’t link to their main Facebook profile and won’t match users to people in their friends’ networks – only strangers also interested in dating.
More than 200 million Facebook users list their relationship status as “single,” and Mr. Zuckerberg said several users had thanked him personally for helping them find love on Facebook. “This is going to be for building real long-term relationships, not hook-ups,” he said.
The move comes as the Silicon Valley giant seeks to shift attention away from a continuing controversy over its data-collection practices after revelations in mid-March that Cambridge University researcher Aleksandr Kogan had sold data on as many as 87 million Facebook users to a political consulting firm working for Donald Trump’s 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.
Mr. Zuckerberg previewed several new features he said were targeted at increasing privacy and combatting fake news and hate speech, including a new “clear history” button. The feature will allow users to delete their activity, such as their interactions with apps and advertisers who track users’ online activity outside of the Facebook platform – similar to how internet browsers allow users to erase their online search history.
The company also said it is looking to allow users to vote on comments that appear on Facebook posts, a move Chris Cox, Facebook’s chief product officer, said would “improve the quality of public conversation.”
But even as Mr. Zuckerberg walked through many of Facebook’s recent privacy and security updates, he signalled to app developers that the company is still aggressively pushing ahead with new products, such as its dating service, that are aimed at harnessing Facebook’s vast user base to take on smaller competitors.
Investors in competing online matchmaking sites reacted swiftly to news of Facebook’s planned dating service.
Shares of Match Group, which owns popular online dating app Tinder, plunged more than 22 per cent on Tuesday. IAC, which owns Match along with competing dating services PlentyofFish and OkCupid, saw its shares fall nearly 18 per cent.
“We’re surprised at the timing given the amount of personal and sensitive data that comes with this territory,” Match Group CEO Mandy Ginsberg said in a statement. She added that the addition of a large player such as Facebook to the online dating industry would give competitors a needed boost. “We understand this category better than anyone. Facebook’s entry will only be invigorating to all of us.”
Online safety advocates also raised concerns about Facebook launching a dating app when it already has access to vast stores of personal data on billions of users.
“Facebook is desperately grasping for any new business model,” said Parry Aftab, a lawyer and digital safety expert who previously sat on Facebook’s safety-advisory board. “But to enter into one that is so sensitive as to the most important crucial and intimate information about ourselves at a time when their privacy and trust is in question, I think is a bad move.”
Erica Olsen, director of an online safety program run by the National Network to End Domestic Violence in Washington, said Facebook had briefed her organization on some of the safety and privacy features of the new dating service.
“Abusive individuals will often attempt to misuse any available platform as a tactic of abuse. What will be important is having good options for increasing privacy, reporting misuse, and documenting any issues,” she wrote in an e-mail. “These are all things they are looking at and we are communicating with them about.”