There are many warning signs about Facebook's new dating service, Jennifer Dudley-Nicholson writes.
There are many warning signs about Facebook's new dating service, Jennifer Dudley-Nicholson writes.

Facebook’s dating service is a disaster in waiting

LATE on a Tuesday night and "a little intoxicated," an American college student had a billion-dollar idea.

His fellow Harvard students had uploaded "pretty horrendiedous" (sic) photos online, he decided, and they deserved to be compared to "pictures of some farm animals".

Seven hours later, he'd ditched the farm animals, but created something just as distasteful: a website that pitted photos of female students against one another to let visitors judge who was hotter.

"Facemash," as it was known, attracted 450 visitors in four hours, but was shut down by Harvard administrators for violating security, copyright, and privacy regulations.

Sound familiar?

This is the ugly, so-not-hot birth of Facebook, a company that now boasts 2.2 billion active monthly users, $40 billion in yearly revenue, and a seemingly never-ending string of privacy scandals.

And it's one that now appears to be going full circle, launching a dating service so other Facebook users can decide how 'hot' you are.

Frankly, it feels like Mark Zuckerberg is still misbehaving.

Facebook's slightly despotic and robotic founder announced the company's dating plans at its F8 developers' conference this morning in a surprisingly animated speech designed to make him sound like a relatable guy who definitely didn't sell your phone number and private messages in exchange for power and money.

"I can't tell you how many times I've been walking down the street in some city," Zuckerberg said, pretending he walks around without handlers, "and a couple will come up to me and say that they met on Facebook, and sometimes they'll have their kids with them and they'll point to them and they'll say 'thank you'."

It's hard to tell if Zuckerberg was cringing as hard as I was at this comment, as I had to look away. Unless you played an active role in conceiving, delivering, or raising said child, you don't deserve thanks for his or her existence.

Nevertheless, he persisted.

"This (dating service) is going to be for building real, long-term relationships - not just hook-ups," added the brains behind Facemash's hot-or-not feature.

But let's assume Zuckerberg has changed his sexist ways since his silly sophomore days, and that regular contact with women, including Facebook second-in-command Sheryl Sandberg, has reformed this nerdy misogynist. Can he be trusted with your most private details?

Some additions to Facebook's matchmaking service are positive. Zuckerberg promises your friends won't see your dating profile, that you won't be matched with them, that only your first name will appear, and that you'll only receive text in messages (probably the smartest thing about this plan and definitely designed by a dating veteran).

But there are many alarming, red flag-waving, red light-flashing, siren-blaring warning signs about Facebook's dating service.

Most obviously, it's been announced just weeks after the company's biggest privacy scandal in its 14-year history. Facebook handed over the private details of more than 311,000 Australians, and 87 million people worldwide, to a developer who then sold them to the highest bidder.

Those personal details - collected mostly from people who did not consent or even know their data was being harvested - included phone numbers, gender details, religious views, and even private messages … or messages the senders thought were private.

With that record, could you trust Facebook to keep your best pick-up lines private? And what could it do with conversations of a more intimate nature?

And then there's the fact Facebook will need access to your location and personal plans for this dating service to work - it matches people based on their location and intention to attend local events.

And there's also the biggest red flag of all: Facebook doesn't do things out of sheer benevolence. Your participation will give Zuckerberg and his mates more personal, private data to mine and trade for advertising dollars.

If you sign up for this dating service, I guarantee you'll see advertisements for rom-coms, TV dinners for one, and personal training sessions until you rage-quit in disgust.

When it comes to comparing dating services, or even social media platforms, Facebook is just not hot enough.

Jennifer-Dudley Nicholson is News Corp's national technology editor.


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