When Facebook announced a new dating feature at its annual developer conference this week, it drew quick comparisons to existing apps like Tinder and Bumble. But the social network’s matchmaking service, simply called Dating, most closely resembles another, lesser known dating app: Hinge.
Facebook hasn’t yet begun to test Dating, but the demo version touted on stage by CEO Mark Zuckerberg and chief product officer Chris Cox looks nearly identical to Hinge. This isn’t the first time Facebook has ripped off a competitor; Instagram famously lifted Stories from Snapchat in 2016. And as in previous cases, Hinge probably doesn’t have much recourse to stop them.
Based on the demo shown at the F8 developer conference, Facebook Dating doesn’t have a Tinder-like “hot or not” swiping feature for quickly sorting through potential matches. Instead, it works like Hinge, which has users scroll through detailed profiles. Both Hinge and Facebook Dating also allow users to post answers to questions on their profiles, like whether they prefer dogs or cats. And in the biggest similarity, singles on both services can start conversations not by merely saying hello but by commenting on a specific profile item. For example, you can click on a picture of a crush’s trip to Morocco and mention that you’ve been there too. You can also simply “like” an image, video, or question response to signify your interest.
Hinge and Facebook Dating also share the same ethos. On stage, Zuckerberg stressed that Dating focuses on finding meaningful relationships rather than hookups. Hinge advertises itself the same way. In 2016, the app added a paid service; for $7 a month, users can interact with an unlimited number of potential matches and gain access to other exclusive features. The assumption is that people willing to pay to find a relationship are looking for something more substantial than casual dating. Facebook wants to do the same, just without the price tag.
Like most popular dating apps, Hinge also largely relies on Facebook data to operate; you even need a Facebook account to sign up, though the company says it’s developing a workaround. Hinge uses info from the social network to show you potential matches that have friends in common with you. You can also automatically pull in your Facebook photos and other information.
Again, Facebook Dating has yet to launch, so it’s impossible to know exactly how much it has in common with Hinge. But at first glance, they seem nearly identical, not just because they have the same features but also in the way they’re designed. Facebook didn’t respond to requests for comment about the similarities. Hinge, meanwhile, is playing it off as a compliment.
“When the Hinge team saw the similarity between our designs, particularly the profile and liking interaction, we congratulated each other. It’s gratifying to have one of the world’s biggest technology companies enter the dating space and draw so much inspiration from Hinge,” Tim MacGougan, Hinge’s vice president of product, said in an email. “We’re interested to see how their product evolves as they find their footing, and we’ll keep our focus on innovating at the forefront of the anti-swipe, pro-dating movement.”
Besides, it’s not like Hinge can really do anything about it. The reality is tech companies have ripped off each other’s interfaces for years, even if Facebook has a few recent, brazen examples. And legally, they’re entitled to.
“I don’t think any claim that Hinge could plausibly raise would stand much of a chance of being successful,” says Evan Brown, a partner at the firm Much Shelist who specializes in technology and intellectual property law. Brown explains that copyright laws are designed to protect creative expression, rather than methods of doing something, like crafting a successful dating app. “When you look at the similarities between how Hinge looks and Facebook looks, those similarities—as I see it—are purely factual or methodological,” he says.