If you open Facebook’s mobile app today, it will likely suggest that you try the company’s new Dating service, which just launched in the U.S. after a rollout in 19 other countries last year. But with the company’s track record of mishandling user data, and its business model of monetizing our sensitive information to power third-party targeted advertising, potential users should view Facebook’s desire to peek into our bedrooms as a huge red flag.
Bad at Data Privacy But Good at Dating Privacy? Doubtful
Just this week, Facebook’s lax data privacy practices resulted in a huge database of phone numbers linked to accounts surfacing on a third party’s unprotected server. Generally, this is how the story goes: sensitive user data is leaked or found to be available in a way that Facebook users didn’t expect. But don’t worry, the company says—we’ve updated those practices. While improvements are appreciated, this cycle gets repeated so regularly that you could almost set your watch by it.
If you can’t trust Facebook with your phone number, can you really trust them to safeguard your dating history?
This has created a problem for Facebook. Once upon a time, the company’s main value proposition was to make it easier for friends, or acquaintances, to connect and share info about themselves with one another (and thus with Facebook). And over the years, the company has expanded the amount of data it collects—even as it has become clearer and clearer that it can’t be trusted with all of that sensitive info.
But after these numerous scandals, many users have spent the last year or two trying to minimize the information they intentionally give to the company (though its ubiquity can make that difficult). Facebook Dating offers a new twist on what the company once promised—connection—in exchange for what the company values most—your data. But at this point, one would have to be pretty desperate to give a company with Facebook’s history any insight into their romantic life. Your friend list alone can reveal all sorts of information about you. With a new service like Dating that gives Facebook access to particularly sensitive information about our love lives—like which of our friends we have a crush on, what we are looking for in a partner, where we met them, etc—users should be very wary that the company will continue to mishandle this especially private info the way it has already mishandled user info for years.
Third Wheels and Third Parties
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Facebook says it isn’t currently monetizing its dating service. But the company is powered by advertising dollars, paid for by advertisers who want access to the data that Facebook collects. Facebook gathers this information in lots of ways—when you click the “like” button, when you click ads, when you visit other sites that have Facebook’s pixel on them, even when you visit specific stores in person. In all likelihood, dating profile data will prove too valuable an addition to that collection for the company to keep hidden from advertisers, who would love to be the third wheel in your relationship with Facebook’s dating service. Some of that info will almost certainly be available for those third parties to use in their search for ever more detailed data about potential targets.
To do that, Facebook could combine your dating profile information with the rest of your account data—it’s hard to imagine the company giving up the ability to add its years of data on users with the new data it collects about their dating. If it required informed opt-in consent from users before advertisers could use that data, that might be less worrisome. But we don’t know if there will be any controls at all for those who don’t want their dating life to mingle with the rest of their online profile, or to be shared with advertisers—and that’s a recipe for heartbreak.
This is not to mention that earlier this year, in a world-class blunder, Facebook was caught (and chastised by the FTC for) using phone numbers for targeted advertising purposes that users had provided only for two-factor authentication. If you can’t trust Facebook with your phone number, can you really trust them to safeguard your dating history? These numerous past mistakes should serve as a warning: if you wouldn’t tell Facebook—and all of its advertisers—the nitty gritty details about what you’re looking for in a partner, you should think twice about asking the company to play matchmaker.