Cupid and privacy concerns; Facebook's F8 updates hit the bullseye

The surprise news of Facebook's F8 conference at the start of this month was that its next tech development will be in dating. While certainly an ambitious move, taking on the likes of eHarmony and Match.com, let’s not forget its innate strengths in this area.

Relationship status has long been a core part of the user profile on Facebook. The platform's own figures show that 200 million of us have listed our status as single. GlobalWebIndex's data confirms that the total singleton audience on Facebook will be even larger once those who are single but haven't entered that information on the site are included.

Mark Zuckerberg has said Facebook’s new dating feature will set about “building real, long-term relationships” between users – not only this, but we see a savvy move to complement the company’s other F8 initiatives set around building trust in the wake of recent headlines.

A new type of singleton

So why is Facebook taking a different approach to apps like Tinder and Bumble which have garnered so many digital native users? The reason is Facebook's active audience profile continues to differentiate it from any and all competitors.

Social media is more of a time-filler and content consumption hub for Gen Zers. Growth across Instagram and Whatsapp continues among younger audiences because they appeal to this behaviour. By contrast, Facebook's audience is much broader than this in terms of age, thanks to its ability to appeal to the over 45 age groups. This audience is looking to craft more meaningful relationships, rekindle old friendships and stay in touch with family.

This reflects recent developments in the online dating scene. While Tinder and Bumble for example have driven massive growth focused on the 'swipe left and swipe right' immediacy of dating, it seems as though Facebook is looking to compete with dating apps like Match and eHarmony.

Trust in dating?

Facebook leads in AI with its Messenger Bots for brands aiding companies in driving useful and efficient conversations with customers. Match has talked publically about its digital assistant and it is likely Facebook will look to build data driven relationships in this way too.

However, our insights show that 60% of consumers agree that they are worried about the internet eroding their personal privacy and that more than one in four internet users get online using a VPN, with one third doing so for more anonymity.

This is where Facebook’s other F8 announcements provide the perfect antidote. To address this growing conversation around data privacy and trust, new features such as Clear History will enable users to see the websites and apps that send information when used, delete this information from their account, and turn off our ability to store it going forward.

It will be interesting to see how new privacy levels are echoed in the adoption of the dating service. Overall, if a match is going to be truly meaningful it will need to be based on a deep level of analysis that ensures the two people could be compatible - and yet this promises to be a highly effective value exchange among relevant audiences.

Zuckerberg is setting out very publicly that Facebook can thrive in an era where trust and consent rules above all else. The platform will simply need to be transparent about the way they are using data for matches.

Spending quality time

In January, the social network said that at the end of 2017 time spent in-app had fallen. A new service like this which goes back to Facebook's focus of building personal relationships, should provide a reason to spend extended amounts of time where users receive a rewarding experience.

Facebook is already involved in our relationships. It knows how we interact with each other, when we became friends, the mutual friends we have and who we spend time with based on who we are tagged in photos with.

Dating is a bid to encourage people to spend longer on the platform and a realisation that the audience using Facebook is changing. The company continues to evolve, and deeply understanding the profile of people on its platform will remain key to Facebook launching new services successfully.

Jason Mander is chief research officer at GlobalWebIndex. He tweets @thejasonmander

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