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.