We’re left asking the same thing we wondered just months ago about Facebook’s plunge into cryptocurrency: What could go wrong? What couldn’t?
If you choose to let Facebook play matchmaker, your profile will be separate from your old-fashioned one on the blue app. That’s supposed to help with the privacy problem. So is the company’s promise that it’s all about the love, baby. Your feelings are a powerful sales weapon, certainly, but Facebook won’t monetise whatever it learns about you from its dating apparatus – at least for now. Facebook also says it won’t display your friends for potential wooing. (Unless, that is, you add them as a “Secret Crush”. Then you’ll both be notified in the event of mutual fancy.)
Still, Facebook is really putting itself out there. The company has got in trouble for vacuuming up too much personal information and then spewing it back out to unsavoury third parties – and now it’s asking to hold on to information that’s even more personal. The company has a famously awful track record on keeping stuff secret, and now it’s rolling out a feature with “secret” literally in its name.
But Facebook is going to do it anyway, because it has to.
People in their 20s are starting to delete Facebook; people in their teens hardly know what it is. Facebook is tying itself to the mast of its other properties to secure its own survival – establishing end-to-end encrypted integration with WhatsApp because people want to communicate securely, creating a cryptocurrency because people want to spend money on the web, building a dating app connected to Instagram.
And yet even as this gamble reflects Facebook’s fear of becoming less and less essential, it also recognises how inexorably it has altered us already. The you matching with boyfriends-to-be on Zuckerberg’s latest product isn’t you, you. It’s Facebook-you, a personality honed over the years you’ve been wall-writing and thumbs-up tapping and poking and RSVPing “yes” to colleagues’ housewarmings.
Facebook began as a way to graft the real world on to an internet space. Students at Harvard University connected with each other simply because they were other students at Harvard; neighbours with neighbours and cousins with cousins. Now, Facebook is grafting its digital world on to the space we physically occupy. Facebook-you, created with the platform’s help in the course of all your time not-so-well spent on the service, will be designated compatible with Facebook-someone-else – and then actual you and actual someone else will go out for a drink.
Facebook Dating is the most obvious, most solid example of a phenomenon that’s been around for a while now: Your offline life aids Facebook in building your internet avatar. But your internet avatar lets Facebook build your offline life, too.
Data is the new dating. Are you interested?
Molly Roberts writes about technology and society for The Post‘s Opinions section.