This man wants to help you find a date. In this file photo, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is arriving in Washington to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the use of Facebook data. Facebook recently announced its making its dating service available in the U.S. J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press
Facebook – you know, the company that’s ruined your attention span, warped national geopolitics and hawked your personal information to the highest bidder – wants to help you find a date.
On Sept. 5, Facebook launched its dating app in the U.S. Promising to help you “start meaningful relationships through things you have in common, like interests, events, and groups,” Facebook Dating will “suggest” potential matches to those who opt into the service.
The service is similar to other dating apps. The algorithm picks profiles for you based on where you live, your interests and your Facebook groups. You either “like” the profiles the algorithm picks for you, or you take a pass on them.
Its most unusual new feature is both sweet and invasive, like a traditional matchmaker. If you and a mutual friend both add each other to a “Secret Crush” list, Facebook will let you know.
The least interesting features are the ones that make it clear Facebook is interested in you not as a person but as a data-mining opportunity.
It’s encouraging users to add Instagram posts and stories to their profiles, and to see if other people on the app will be attending the same events.
Of course, the entire enterprise feels a little suspicious, mostly because it’s Facebook. There’s got to be an unintended consequence somewhere, right?
The simple answer may just be that Facebook is just trying to wring more money out of your data. The company’s user base in the U.S. is shrinking . Younger users are fleeing the platform. To offset market softness, it’s tightening its grip on the still-popular Instagram (so many demands for users to cross-post their photos!) and . looking for new opportunities.
It’s worth billions of dollars, and nearly all of the major apps – Tinder, OkCupid, Hinge and Plenty of Fish, for example – are owned by the same conglomerate, the Match Group. Many of those apps are ripe for “disruption” – they have a captive audience in the tens of millions and they don’t look like they’ve gotten a design overhaul since the early 2000s.
Facebook probably ran the numbers, analyzed your personal information and decided it had a good-enough shot at overcoming its competitors’ first-mover market advantage to worm its way into another facet of your life.
The questionable photos, grammatically dubious bios, ghosting, direct messages consisting of nothing but genitalia – when I was single, I had to periodically take breaks from the apps, and every single person I know now does the same.
Which is interesting, because online dating makes so many people miserable
It surprises me that Facebook didn’t consider what should have been an obvious answer for a social network based around friendship: What about a dating app that helps you make choices with the input of your friends?
In the long-forgotten offline days, people used to meet their partners through friends all the time. As the average age of marriage has been trending up in the U.S., friendships have only become more important. When your friends are like your family, they’re deeply invested in your romantic life. Who wants to absorb a jerk into the friend group?
Plus, many single people are already relying on their friends to help them survive dating apps. They’re just doing it on an ad-hoc basis.
Last weekend I was out with three girlfriends, one of whom is single. She was dreading the process of weeding through her in-app inbox and match BBW dating service selections.
Burnout was overtaking her willingness to stay in the game. So we did what any good friends would do – we took her phone and went through each profile with her.
When we saw red flags – the guys whose photos all included their mothers or ex-girlfriends, the ones with bad politics or absurd relationship expectations or alcoholic beverages in every shot – we rejected them without hesitation.
Like the online dating industry
If we saw someone who seemed pleasant enough but would not have been right for her – guys who loved motorcycles, for example – we reminded her why (safety risks make her anxious). Objectivity made us ruthless; understanding who she was helped us narrow the field.
There’s no context online, we reminded her. We’ve eliminated the disqualifying options. The rest you’ll have to meet in person. And you should!
Someone should leverage this terrific market opportunity. As of today, it’s not Facebook. But considering how much it already knows about our lives, maybe that’s for the best.
Caille Millner is Deputy Opinion Editor and a Datebook columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle. On the editorial board, she edits op-eds and writes on a wide range of topics including business, finance, technology, education and local politics. For Datebook, she writes a weekly column on Bay Area life and culture. She is the author of “The Golden Road: Notes on My Gentrification” (Penguin Press), a memoir about growing up in the Bay Area. She is also the recipient of the Scripps-Howard Foundation’s Walker Stone Award in Editorial Writing and the Society of Professional Journalists’ Editorial Writing Award.