Photograph — mspoweruser

Facebook wants to go beyond connecting friends to playing cupid and matchmaking singles. Clearly unfazed by recent criticisms and controversies surrounding data privacy issues, the world’s largest online social network is aiming to stake a huge claim in the online dating services market, which is supported by the rising number of singles using smartphones and a growing trend of finding dates on the internet.

Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg revealed on Tuesday at the Facebook developers’ conference, F8, that a dating feature will soon be added to the platform. The plan is to boost users’ engagement and increase time spent on the platform by introducing a feature that would matchmake people on Facebook.

“There are 200 million people on Facebook that list themselves as single, so clearly there’s something to do here,” Zuckerberg told software developers during a presentation at Facebook’s annual F8 conference. With so much users’ data stored on Facebook, there’s definitely something to do.

Also, data from research firm eMarketer states that approximately 27 percent of smartphone users are single, and this number is expected to grow to 35 percent in the next five years.

Obviously, the world’s most used social networking site has the advantage here. It can easily leverage the huge mass of data it has acquired on its active users, which are over 2 billion, to match people more effectively than rival dating sites.

However, it’s quite telling that despite being right at the centre of ongoing heated discussions on data privacy and exploitation, which began with the inappropriate manner Facebook had handled users’ information, the California-based company is still going right ahead to create another means to acquire more personal data to sustain its ad-based business model.

The company believes it’s in a better position to help the world build lasting relationships, starting online. The feature isn’t just for shallow relationships and mere hookups according to Zuckerberg. It will be for “building real, long-term relationships — not just for hookups,” Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg said.

“If we’re focused on helping people build meaningful relationships this is perhaps the most meaningful of all.”

The announcement turned out to be a real hit, and a major blow to other dating sites as their shares plummeted yesterday. Match Group Inc and its parent InterActiveCorp (IAC) plunged, wiping some $5 billion off their combined market values. Match, which owns major dating apps like Tinder and OkCupid, fell 22 percent – its largest one-day drop ever – and IAC, which owns more than a fifth of Match, fell nearly 18 percent in its biggest daily loss in about 13 years, according to Reuters.

While Facebook’s data privacy issues could turn out to be a major concern for people who intend to explore this feature, it has been announced that it would be adding new features to protect users. Zuckerberg said during the conference that they are building a “clear history” privacy control, which can remove data sent to the social network via outside websites and apps – it will be similar to the option of clearing cookies in a browser.

The new dating feature, which should be released before the end of the year, will allow people to create a dating profile that is separate from their Facebook profile, which friends won’t be able to see — and potential matches will be recommended based on dating preferences, things in common, and mutual friends. Users will also have the option to discover others with similar interests through their Groups or Events, Facebook said in a statement.

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