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Facebook Opens Online Dating Pilot

Excuse the brief descent into heartbreak, but for every online dating success story — Aren’t they so cute?!! How nice of them to have an open bar at their wedding! — there seems to be at least three times that number of seriously dark tales from that corner of the digital world.

Consider these examples:

The guy who kept a supply of plastic roses in his car trunk to “reward” any woman who met his standards at the 24-hour Chicago diner (cash-only, by the way, as even the grease stains in that place were probably from the ‘50s) he apparently took all his dates to.

The man who told the woman — a young cancer scientist at an urban university — that she should dumb herself down and stick with discussions of pop culture lest men feel intimidated and decline to propose to her. He kept texting like a stalker, too, all but begging for another date.

The woman who asked the man, during an initial coffee date at Starbucks (this was before the success of the chain’s mobile commerce and loyalty program), if he would mind, at least theoretically, a Catholic wedding with a full mass — something her dad desired for his only daughter.

(All those anecdotes are true, by the way, either personally experienced or heard from reliable sources by a veteran journalist who works for the crack PYMNTS investigative digital dating team.)

Facebook’s Plan

Can Facebook help bring more sanity — or, more accurately, a better sense of safety — to the world of online dating? That’s the social media platform’s aim. And it is launching its effort amid larger concerns about the security of digital matchmaking.

As you likely know, Facebook wants to build its own dating service, and its employees have been testing it in recent months. Facebook Dating will allow users to create a separate profile for dating. When two people using the service like one another’s profiles, they will be allowed to make contact. The company also said the mobile app would allow users to make their dating profile visible for people attending the same events so they could generate more offline connections.

Now Facebook is reportedly testing a dating feature — in Colombia — that is designed to prevent stalking. “This feature is focused primarily on an algorithm-powered homescreen of suggested romantic matches based on everything the user decides to share, such as a freeform bio and information about workplace, education, religion, height and if they have children,” according to reports.

An account of the launch of that feature in Colombia this week said Facebook is deliberately steering clear of competition with Tinder, which is more geared toward — and this is no moral judgement, of course; we all have needs — quick hookups with nearby people instead of candidates for meeting one’s parents. “Facebook dating has incorporated a few features to prohibit stalking and steer clear of quick hookups. Users can’t message photos, messages are supposed to be tied to a piece of content and users can’t follow people who don’t respond to them,” according to the account.

Privacy Issues

Facebook, of course, faces increased consumer skepticism about its data-handling practices — and that is leading to questions about the loyalty of younger people and others to the social media platform. That’s thanks in large part to the Cambridge Analytica data-sharing scandal. But there are other issues involved — for example, consumers are becoming increasingly knowledgeable about how their online information and web-enabled device use is employed to craft extremely precise and personal marketing messages, and that is creeping out more people if one goes by news reports and analysts.

The costs of that privacy backlash are starting to show themselves. Pew Research recently reported that 42 percent of Facebook users have taken a break from the platform during the past year, while 54 percent of those 18 and older have adjusted their privacy settings during that timeframe. Additionally, 26 percent of U.S. adult consumers said they deleted the Facebook app from their smartphone.

Dating Security Risks

Those trends are not the only challenges Facebook faces in the digital matchmaking business.

There is little doubt that consumers have taken to online dating — one estimate said one in three people have at least tried it. That report said 25 percent of online dating users share “information with others too easily,” including full names in their dating profiles. “One-in-10 have shared their home address, and the same number have shared naked photos of themselves this way, exposing them to risk.”

The kicker? More than half of online dating users — 55 percent — report having experienced “some form of threat or problem while dating online. And, people that use online dating are twice as likely to experience an IT security incident than people that don’t (41 percent vs. 20 percent), primarily due to their increased level of online activity in general.”

Online dating continues to expand, with recent years bringing the expansion of services geared toward older adults and other consumer segments. Security is becoming not only a marketing pitch, but a necessity. After all, the risks of online dating go far beyond meeting a creep with fake roses in his car.

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