Speaking of announcements, Zuckerberg brings up the most surprising one he plans to make—a new Facebook service called Dating. This Tinder-esque development allows users to create separate profiles to pursue romantic connections, with Facebook acting as an algorithmic yenta. In any other year, this type of service makes sense. But considering that the company is facing its biggest crisis ever because of its handling of personal data, doesn’t it seem a little risky to be adding a new data set with some of the most personal information ever?
At first, Zuckerberg answers the question by explaining that the new feature builds on the fact that people have always used Facebook for dating, and by noting the product’s various protections. (Facebook, for instance, will not use that information in targeting ads.) So I change the subject and move on to other questions. But a couple of minutes later, he returns to the Dating discussion, clearly disturbed at my implication. “Obviously, you’re asking this question,” he says. “But do you think that this is a bad time to be talking about this?”
I tell him that I get that Facebook is taking steps to isolate the information from one’s regular profile. But isn’t he worried that people might look at Dating and say, “Wow, Facebook wants to know this about me, too?”
Zuckerberg straightens up in his chair—this issue is dead in the center of the devilish tensions between trust-building and maintaining momentum. “This is the threading of the needle we talked about up front,” he says. Of course, Facebook has to keep introducing new products, announcing stuff on Marketplace, introducing a new augmented reality camera platform, shipping the standalone VR headset Oculus Go. But he doesn’t want people to think that because the company is moving forward, it’s any less serious about winning back its users’ trust. “Because my top priority is making sure that we convey that we are taking these things seriously,” he says.
This was obviously the strangest part of Facebook’s F8 conference this year. Not the fact that they’d launch a dating service of some kind – that was probably always inevitable – but that they went ahead with announcing it amidst everything else going on
. Again, I have to wonder
: who is making these calls and are they in touch
with Planet Earth?
And while I certainly agree with Zuckerberg’s larger point – that they need to keep innovating to stay relevant (though we can argue about how much a dating service is innovating – we’ll wait to see it, I guess) – his response when Levy pushes back on this is worrisome at best. How do you not even realize this might be an issue for people with everything going on?