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Facebook Dating won't push Tinder off your home screen just yet

The social network's dating feature comes to the US. It has a lot of wooing to do.

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Facebook Dating will let you add your recent Instagram posts to your dating profile. 

Angela Lang/CNET

Shelby Ruth, a 20-year-old Canadian, started online dating because it was a quick way to meet new people.

So when Facebook launched its new dating feature in Canada last year, she signed up because the social network made it easy to do. Compared with Tinder, Ruth noticed, users share more profile information on Facebook Dating. But there are also downsides.

"I have not put a lot of effort into it because to me it does not have a lot of possible bachelors for me," she said. "I personally believe there is one type of demographic that Facebook Dating is getting and that is the older, possibly middle-aged people."

Ruth looks through her likes on Facebook Dating about once a week, but she hasn't met any of her matches in real life. She only chatted with one person over more than a couple of messages before the conversation died.

As Facebook's ambitions for online dating grows, the social media giant will have to convince people like Ruth that its dating service is worth using over other popular dating apps like Tinder, Bumble, Grindr and Hinge. Oh, and then there's that whole litany of privacy concerns.

On Thursday, the social media giant said it's launching Facebook Dating in the US and plans to expand the feature to Europe by early 2020. Facebook's dating service, unveiled at its developer conference in May 2018, is available in 19 other countries including Canada, Mexico and Singapore. Eventually, Facebook plans to release the service globally.

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Facebook Dating will start letting you share Facebook and Instagram "Stories" by the end of this year. 

Facebook

The social network is also integrating Instagram features within Facebook Dating, a move that could entice people in their late teens and into their 20s to try out the service. Facebook Dating users, who have to be at least 18 years old, will be able to add recent Instagram posts to their dating profile. They can also add an Instagram follower as their "Secret Crush," a feature that lets users select up to nine Facebook friends they're interested in romantically. By the end of this year, the social network plans to bring Instagram and Facebook "Stories" to Facebook Dating, allowing users to post photos and videos that vanish within 24 hours so their profiles are less static. 

Facebook declined to say how many people use its dating service. The company's venture into online dating could give it a way to get users to spend more time on its app, attract more revenue and rope in a younger audience. 

"Facebook may be interested in this market because dating apps are really most popular among millennials," said Monica Peart, eMarketer's vice president of forecasting. "This age group is quite prevalent and in more developing nations that skew younger and have very high Facebook usage."

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US smartphone owners are turning to dating apps but adoption is growing slower than expected. In 2019, about 25.1 million adult smartphone users in the US are expected to use at least one dating app at least once per month, a 5.3% uptick compared with 2018, according to eMarketer. The market research company in July lowered its previous forecast of 9.8% growth. The forecast doesn't include Facebook Dating, a feature within the social network's main app.

Like Facebook, online dating apps also face their share of privacy and security concerns, including fake profiles, scams and cyberstalking. The social network was hit with a record $5 billion fine in July from the Federal Trade Commission for its alleged privacy mishaps. 

"Timing is interesting in light of certain scandals especially around privacy," Peart said. "I think that's a risk for Facebook in this arena."

Nathan Sharp, product lead for Facebook Dating, said in an interview that the company built features to protect user privacy and safety. The company isn't using data from the dating profiles for ad targeting. New accounts and those who repeatedly violate the site's rules aren't allowed on Facebook Dating, he said. You can block or report a profile. Users can't send photos, videos, payments or links through the dating feature's messaging service, which could help prevent scams and unwanted images.

"Facebook Dating's chat service is like a trust sandbox, where you understand whether or not you trust the person enough to take it off to your (messaging service) of choice where you can share things like photos and videos," Sharp said. 

Users of Facebook Dating are able to share when they're going on a date and their live location with friends or family on Messenger. That could help them feel more comfortable about meeting strangers for the first time.

"One of the things that we've learned is that people take safety incredibly seriously in online dating, and for good reason," he said.

How Facebook Dating compares 

When Facebook CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg first unveiled its dating service, he said the feature was "going to be for building real, long-term relationships, not just hookups."

Sharp said Facebook Dating has helped users form relationships, but declined to share what percentage of users were in a relationship for longer than a month or six months, or got married. 

The company is building Facebook for everybody, Sharp said, even though some features might appeal to users of certain ages. The average age of a Facebook Dating user is younger than the average Facebook user, he said. 

Sharp wouldn't give specifics, but according to eMarketer, Facebook's US users skew older. The biggest percentage of Facebook users in the US is the group between 25 and 34 years old, at 23%, followed by those in the 35-44 range (19%). About 12% of US Facebook users are between 18 and 24.

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Facebook will let you share your live location with friends and family on Messenger before you go on a date. 

Facebook

Unlike its competitors, Facebook chose to release the feature within the social network instead of creating a separate app. Users are able to opt into the feature on its main menu next to other services such as Groups and Events. Your dating profile is separate from your Facebook profile and you'll see potential matches with friends of friends or others who use the service. The social network suggests matches based on your interests, preferences and other activity on Facebook. 

Julie Evelyn Joyce, a 36-year-old Canadian who writes romance novels, said that when the dating feature first launched, she thought Facebook would do something "innovative." She's already on the social network so on the plus side she didn't have to download a new app. 

Other users said they were wary about signing up for Facebook Dating because they worried their friends would discover they were on the service. Facebook said its dating feature won't match you with friends unless you use the Secret Crush feature.

Seeing mutual friends can help spark a conversation, but Joyce also thinks Facebook Dating doesn't stand out in a unique way. Joyce has used other dating apps including eHarmony, Tinder, OkCupid, Bumble, Hinge and Coffee Meets Bagel. 

On Facebook Dating, you fill out basic profile information such as your city, job and where you went to college and answer ice-breaker questions like what your perfect date looks like. Instead of swiping on profiles like you do on Tinder and Bumble, you tap on a heart icon if you like the person or an X if you don't. Facebook Dating will show users who liked you. You can also turn on a feature that lets you see if you're in the same Facebook groups or attended the same concerts or events as other users.

So far, Joyce has gone out with two matches from Facebook Dating. The first fizzled out after a couple of dates, but she's gone on three dates with another match and they're still dating and conversing. 

Like many people who've tried online dating, she's found that using these apps can feel like a job. When she first started online dating, it was almost like a game; you'd be flattered by the number of matches you get. Now she's very selective about who she likes on these apps. 

When she's finally found love, Joyce doesn't plan to change her Facebook status to "in a relationship," she said. "I'm going to say 'ended my relationship with dating apps.'"