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Will dating feature make Facebook a major threat to data privacy?

More than anything, it appears to be a new trick to gather more personal and intimate data about users.

 |  4-minute read |   04-05-2018
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It's finally happening. Facebook is entering the multi-billion matchmaking market that is currently dominated by the likes of Tinder and Grindr.

At the F8 Conference earlier this week, the social media giant's CEO announced to the world plans of introducing a new feature within the platform in the form of a dating app, which will be known as Facebook Dating. 

As is typical of most other apps on Facebook, the application will borrow (read: steal) core ideas from rivals such as Tinder to build a platform where users will get to browse through dating profiles created using an individual's photos and some basic information. 

Still months away from becoming a reality, these dating profiles will be separate from a user's regular Facebook profile and won't show up on the user's news feed or be visible to friends. The application, as Zuckerberg explains, is all about building "meaningful relationships" and not "just for hookups".

As such, it won't suggest your friends as people you might want to date, but rather find you new profiles from outside your friends' list. For this, Facebook will dig deep into its vast troves of data, and find prospective matches that share the same likes and dislikes as you. 

And that's where the problem starts. 

A new way to amass even more personal data 

At a time when Facebook is still embroiled in a scandal involving Cambridge Analytica, with the dating app, the company looks to only be taking the bizarre and intrusive one notch up. More than anything, this appears to be a new trick to gather more personal data about users.

The Facebook Dating app, armed with its own set of features, including a separate messenger, could amplify the problems that currently plague Facebook.

With the app, apart from keeping an eye on a user's opinions on daily matters and politics, Facebook would be able to gain in-depth information on a user's sexual orientation and dating life. 

As much as Facebook may want us to believe this is a well-intentioned move, to not fear that Facebook would be keeping tabs on the users of the dating app would be naive. Afterall, Facebook's own history of violating data privacy, coupled with this dating platform's inherent nature, could turn this application into the perfect tool for Facebook, or a third party to snoop on us at our most vulnerable.

Our humiliating pick-up lines, sexual fantasies and even pictures that we'd rather keep away from the grasp of Facebook, all available for someone else to see and assess. And all this, in the garb of a dating app, meant to help singles around the globe make meaningful relationships.

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The curious case of Facebook ads

Then there's also the curious case of Facebook ads. The social media giant makes most of its money from selling ads that it targets users with based on the information it gathers on them.

Though the company has said that it won't use information gained from the dating app to send targeted ads to its users, it's important to note that it has said the same for reading our messenger chats, yet, users frequently complain of receiving related ads about what they discussed inside the chat service. 

What about the bad apples?

Apart from the questions over how much we can trust Facebook with our data, there also remain questions about how Facebook dating could amplify many of the problems that already plague the platform. 

Over the years, there have been reports of people creating fake profiles on Facebook and later using them to scam those looking for "hookups" and "meaningful relationships". With Facebook no closer to stopping the creation of such fake profiles designed solely to trick people and cheat them of their money, the Facebook Dating app could end up exaggerating this problem that already seems to be getting out of hand. 

Despite Facebook and its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, insisting that Facebook Dating app is designed with privacy and safety in mind, it remains unclear how exactly so. With Facebook's core platform falling short of the promises it made in the past, to trust the dating app would be nothing but foolish. 

Also read: Why Kashmiris fear summer of 2018 is about to get bloodier

Writer

Sushant Talwar Sushant Talwar @sushanttalwar

Tech journalist, DailyO

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