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Facebook getting into dating game

Match.com, Tinder say they don’t fear the competition

By David Pierson, Los Angeles Times
Published: May 6, 2018, 6:05am

Single? Facebook wants to help you change your relationship status.

The social network is introducing a dating feature that will allow users to build profiles to meet potential suitors.

The new feature is “not just for hookups,” Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said Tuesday at the company’s developer conference, F8. Rather, it’s designed to build “meaningful, long-term relationships.”

The news immediately triggered a sell-off in shares associated with existing dating services. Match Group, the parent company of Match.com, saw its stock drop more than 22 percent. IAC, the parent of hookup app Tinder and Match Group, fell more than 16 percent.

The panic could be short-lived, analysts for PiperJaffray said in a note to clients shortly after the announcement.

Facebook isn’t assured success in the dating game despite its stable of over 2 billion users. That’s because the social network is skewing older — not exactly the prime demographic for people on the market.

“Facebook faces challenges in user engagement with the same age group that currently dominates online dating (young adults),” the PiperJaffray analysts said. “Given the necessity of scale to drive engagement, the challenges to initial engagement, and the head start Match has in user reach, we see it as unlikely that Facebook dating will scale to a meaningful competitive threat.”

Executives at Match Group and Tinder said they were not worried by Facebook’s new entrance, even taking a swipe at the social network’s trouble with foreign interference.

“Come on in. The water’s warm. Their product could be great for U.S./Russia relationships,” Joey Levin, Tinder’s chief executive, said in a statement.

Mandy Ginsberg, chief executive of Match Group, made a jab at Facebook’s controversy over user privacy.

“We’re flattered that Facebook is coming into our space,” Ginsberg said. “We’re surprised at the timing given the amount of personal and sensitive data that comes with this territory.”

Users will have to opt into Facebook’s dating feature and their profiles will be separate from their regular Facebook profiles.

“(M)atches will be recommended based on dating preferences, things in common and mutual friends,” Facebook said in a statement. “They’ll have the option to discover others with similar interests through their Groups or Events. However, what people do within the dating feature will not be shown to their friends.”

That stipulation is a nod to Facebook’s troubles over privacy in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which the political consulting firm was able to harvest data from Facebook users’ friends.

Privacy moves

In a separate announcement Tuesday, Facebook said it would allow users to delete personal information provided to Facebook by outside sites and apps, and bar Facebook from obtaining such data in the future. Such information is often collected when a user signs in to an outside site or app using their Facebook login. It can also be collected if they like or share something on Facebook from those sites or apps.

“If you clear your history or use the new setting, we’ll remove identifying information so a history of the websites and apps you’ve used won’t be associated with your account,” Erin Egan, vice president and chief privacy officer for Facebook, said in a blog post.

The move underscores again how much Facebook is committed to self-regulation in lieu of any action from lawmakers in Washington. During Zuckerberg’s testimony last month on Capitol Hill, some members of Congress implored Facebook to strengthen its user privacy features so that regulators won’t have to introduce laws.

“We need your help here. I don’t want Congress to have to act,” Rep. E.L. “Buddy” Carter, R-Ga., told Zuckerberg at the time.

At F8, Zuckeberg even cracked a joke about the testimony, which largely failed to live up to its billing as a reckoning for the social network.

Zuckerberg did so while describing a new feature called Watch Party, which allows friends to communicate while watching a show together on Facebook.

“Let’s say that your friend is testifying in Congress, for example,” the 33-year-old billionaire executive said. “Now you’re going to be able to bring your friends together and you can laugh together and you can cry together. Some of my friends actually did this. Let’s not do that again anytime soon.”

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