At F8, Facebook’s annual developer conference, Mark Zuckerberg announced a new dating service, simply called “Dating,” that will exist right within the social network’s own app. It will allow Facebook users to create separate profiles from their main Facebook accounts to pursue romantic connections. The two profiles won’t interact, meaning your Facebook friends won’t be able to see what your Dating profile says. And it should make dating app incumbents like Tinder and Bumble anxious.
To help keep the two versions of your Facebook self separate, your Dating profile will only use your first name, and your existing Facebook friends won’t appear as potential matches. Dating will also have a dedicated inbox that, unlike Messenger, does not allow you to send photos or links. You can only send text-based messages when chatting for the first time, which Facebook describes as a safety measure.
Facebook will use a unique algorithm to match you with potential dates, based on “dating preferences, things in common, and mutual friends.” You will also be able to find romantic interests via shared Groups and Events. For example, if you’re attending a concert, you’ll be able to “unlock” your profile, so that potential matches who have said they’re going to the same show can see it. The social network says it’s going to start testing Dating later this year, and that it’s not going to use information from the feature to target ads.
The Dating announcement comes at a strange time for Facebook. In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, many users are reluctant to share more personal information with the social network, especially intimate data related to romantic preferences. Zuckerberg, as well as Chris Cox, Facebook’s chief product officer, stressed that the feature is designed to spark meaningful connections—not help you find your next hookup. But the reality is even Facebook doesn’t know yet how it will be widely used, if at all.
It’s hard not to immediately notice that Dating looks eerily similar to predominant existing dating apps, like Tinder, Hinge, and Bumble. Which means that in one sense, Facebook is again looking for success through imitation. It’s easy to dismiss Dating as Facebook copying Tinder, just like it ripped Instagram Stories from Snapchat.
But that analysis misses an important reality: Dating apps like Tinder have long relied on Facebook’s data to operate their service in the first place. If you sign up for one of these apps, you can immediately pull in your Facebook photos, and autofill information like where you live, work, and went to school. Tinder even shows users when a potential match has mutual friends with them on Facebook. Until recently, you couldn’t even sign up for a Bumble account if you didn’t already have a Facebook account. It’s not unreasonable to wonder whether these apps would even exist without the social network.
Tinder’s reliance on Facebook became painfully clear a month ago, when the dating app temporarily stopped working because of changes Facebook made to its data-sharing policies. And now Tinder, as well as apps like it, will have to compete with Facebook itself—an app everyone is already using. The stock price for Match Group, the company that owns dating sites like Tinder, OkCupid, and Match.com, took a tumble after Facebook’s announcement. But the company doesn’t appear worried.
“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,” Mandy Ginsberg, the CEO of Match Group, said in a statement. “Regardless, we’re going to continue to delight our users through product innovation and relentless focus on relationship success. We understand this category better than anyone. Facebook’s entry will only be invigorating to all of us.”
“Come on in. The water’s warm. Their product could be great for US/Russia relationships,” Joey Levin, the CEO of IAC, Match Group’s parent company, added. Bumble, too, described itself as “thrilled” at the news, suggesting in a statement that “perhaps Bumble and Facebook can join forces.”
They have a point: Dating apps will likely still have their own appeal. Historically, certain dating services have drawn specific crowds. Bumble can continue to offer a specific community, or unique features, like the ability for women to exclusively approach men first. Conversely, everyone is on Facebook, with all the good and bad that an infinite dating pool contains.
In many ways Dating makes perfect sense for Facebook. Instead of allowing third-party apps to move user data to their own ecosystems, the social network is instead building its own. It’s also a nod to Facebook’s earliest days. After all, Zuckerberg’s company started out as FaceMash, a “hot or not” game for Harvard students. It worked not unlike the experience of swiping through Tinder profiles does today.
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UPDATED: May 1, 2018, 4:43 PM EST: This story has been updated with comment from Match and IAC.
UPDATED: May 1, 2018, 6:04 PM EST: This story has been updated with comment from Bumble.