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Facebook's new dating service hopes love conquers all, even privacy issues

Mark Zuckerberg wants people to use Facebook to find relationships. But given all the privacy problems on the social network, it's complicated.

At Facebook's annual F8 conference, the social network's chief product officer, Chris Cox, explains how dating on Facebook will work.

At Facebook's annual F8 conference, the social network's chief product officer, Chris Cox, explains how dating on Facebook will work.

Facebook

What's love got to do with it? For Facebook's new dating features, it's about trust.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg this week announced a new tool for daters that lets you create a separate profile, listing your interests, location, job, likes, personality and events you'd like to attend. You can reach out to people who're planning to attend the same events you're interested in, and view photos through their dating profiles. Only other people on the service can see the dating profile, meaning it's hidden from your friends and family. 

While plenty of dating apps already exist, like Tinder, Bumble, OkCupid, Hinge and Match, Facebook boasts advantages many of them don't have: It has 2.2 billion active users, and the social network is offering the dating service for free.

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Match, which owns Tinder and OkCupid, took an early hit from its new rival-to-be: Its stock dropping after the announcement. But with Facebook still reeling from a privacy scandal involving Cambridge Analytica, Zuckerberg's competitors said they don't feel threatened by the new dating feature.

"We're flattered that Facebook is coming into our space -- and sees the global opportunities that we do -- as Tinder continues to skyrocket," Mandy Ginsberg, Match Group's CEO, said in a statement. "We're surprised at the timing given the amount of personal and sensitive data that comes with this territory."

Don't kiss and tell

Last month, Facebook was forced to disclose that data from about  87 million people was co-opted without their permission, or Facebook's knowledge, by Cambridge Analytica, a London-based consultancy. That led to a #DeleteFacebook movement across social media in March and Zuckerberg appearing before Congress in two days of hearings to explain what went wrong.

To cope with the blow to its reputation and step up its privacy, Facebook has been unveiling new privacy-focused features like "Clear History" and easier ways to control how much the social network knows about you. 

Facebook, which announced the new dating tool during its F8 conference for developers this week, is betting that the majority of its users still trust the social network with their information, including intimate details about their romantic prospects. For now, Zuckerberg & Co. have the numbers to back up that bet. Facebook last week reported that sales rose in the first quarter of 2018, and it said it saw an increase in the amount of time people spent using its platform. 

Though Facebook's reputation has taken a hit, it's nothing the company can't shake off, said Eric Schiffer, CEO of Reputation Management Consultants. But its data privacy woes have definitely cost it users, he said.

"There will be many that because of the news, and the mess that Facebook created, will want to stay away from it," Schiffer said. "The last thing that you want is your personal messages, and even some flirtation, to be exposed to the world like data was through Cambridge Analytica's research."

Zuckerberg knew the privacy concerns coming into Tuesday's announcement and hoped to reassure the audience they could trust Facebook with their dating lives. "I know a lot of you are going to have questions about this, so I want to be clear that we've designed this with privacy and safety in mind from the beginning," he said.

Facebook, which makes most of its money from selling targeted ads, said it doesn't have plans to show ads on its new dating platform. It also said it doesn't plan to use information gathered from dating profiles for ads in your News Feed.

The new dating feature was announced on the same day Facebook confirmed it fired an employee who allegedly used his internal access to stalk women through the social network.

Trust issues

Facebook didn't say when the new dating feature would roll out for its app. But before the feature has even launched, the social network's chance for romance faces some major obstacles.

The dating platform opens up opportunities for scams and for thieves to prey on the lonely, said Kevin Lee, a trust and safety architect at fraud prevention company Sift Science.

Lee ran Facebook's spam operations team from 2014 to late 2016, with a focus on stopping online romance scams. He'd see hundreds of fake profiles every day on Facebook designed to trick women and extort money from them. He believes these scammers would "absolutely" target the dating platform.

"Facebook has created a community dedicated to finding love relationships, and with that is going to come a lot of people that want to use it legitimately," Lee said. "On the flip side, they're also going to attract bad actors that are going to exploit those people."

But Lee says Facebook, and the team he used to run, also has the resources to take on the potential flood of fraud attempts.

A Facebook spokesman declined to share information on how its moderation team will work.

Getting over data trust issues is something Ruben Buell, the president of adult dating website Ashley Madison, is very familiar with. The service, designed for people who want to have an affair, suffered an embarrassing breach in 2015 in which 36 million members had their personal information exposed.

Buell became the company's president and chief technology officer in 2017 and was tasked with cleaning up the company's massive mess and getting people to trust Ashley Madison again. He sees a similar challenge for Facebook.

"These are very intimate details of a person's life, something that people care a lot about," Buell said. "What they're going to have to balance is how they utilize the information on their app."

It's Complicated: This is dating in the age of apps. Having fun yet?

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