Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg truly believes in the power of the social network and its role in building human relationships. Clearly, the data leaks fiasco and a large-scale debate around whether Facebook can be trusted with user data has not dampened his enthusiasm and belief in the social network. What else can explain Facebook’s big announcement to enter the world of online dating.
Mark Zuckerberg declared on stage at the annual F8 conference that the dating feature was to “help build long-term and meaningful relationships,” not “just hook-ups” to the amusement of those in the audience. Was he making a subtle jibe at Tinder, which has become infamous as the app where millennials go to hook-up? While we may not know, Facebook’s entry into dating needs some close examination.
One, there’s no doubt that the sheer scale of Facebook means the dating feature will find a great number of users. Wall Street certainly can see this, which explains why shares for Match, which owns Tinder, tanked once this was announced. Facebook has close to 2 billion monthly active users, and that’s something no dating app can achieve, be it Tinder or Bumble or even India’s Shaadi.com (not a dating app strictly speaking).
Then there’s dominance of Facebook when it comes to social networks. Hate it or like, there is no other social network that can compete with Facebook. In fact, in many parts of the world, the internet for many people begins and ends with Facebook. One particularly important market where this is true is India.
Both Facebook the social network and its messaging app WhatsApp dominate here. As more and more people come online for the first time via their phone, many are signing up for Facebook. India is the second biggest market after the US in terms of number of users. Till China opens up, the world’s second most populous country is one where Facebook has a strong grip. For many users, Facebook is still the de-facto mode of connecting with their friends, checking on family members and their updates. Add dating to the mix and suddenly everyone has one more thing to explore on Facebook.
Facebook says you will have a separate dating profile, a separate inbox for your messages from the dating version of the app. Also your friends will not be able to see your dating activities. It will recommend people from events for this dating feature. These could be events taking place close by, and will show up on the ‘Dating’ News Feed, which incidentally looks a lot like Tinder. All of this sounds fine, but there are several things we do not know.
Zuckerberg might believe he is helping people find ‘meaningful relationships’, but exactly how they will do this is a question the company has not answered. The Facebook CEO simply said the feature has been built in mind keep user ‘safety’ and ‘security’. What we do not know is how will the data collected from dating service be used.
Will Facebook keep a tab of who one dates on the service? Will it have a separate data policy for the dating service? Will it collect data about your sexual preferences? We do not know. The last bit could a huge problem in a countries like India, where being a homosexual comes with all sorts of risks, including ending up in jail thanks to the prevalent laws.
Also what of harassment on the dating network.Will Facebook let you block those with whom your dates might have been less than ideal? Can you report someone for stalking you on the Facebook dating service? More importantly how will Facebook deal with these complaints, which inevitably will come up. Say you message someone and decide you do not want to take it further. But the person is not so happy.
They can technically find you on Facebook as well and message you there too and things might not be so pleasant. What will be Facebook’s approach on dealing with this? Will Facebook step in and say suspend someone’s account if they threaten another person on the dating service? We do not have answers yet from the company on this.
Facebook has not had an ideal track record in dealing with some of these problems. Plus, it has a whole other set of problems like fake news to sort out. In fact, most women in India can testify how their ‘Others Inbox’ is filled with messages from unknown men, asking for friendship or threatening them because of some perceived slight. Married men, single men, there’s no knowing who will pop-in to your ‘Others Inbox’ demanding friendship, love, and stuff, which is certainly not so meaningful. Add a dating feature to your profile, and it might end up like opening a Pandora’s box.