AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wants to play Cupid.
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MARK ZUCKERBERG: It's going to be for building real long-term relationships - all right? - not just hookups.
CORNISH: Facebook said yesterday it plans to start testing a dating app later this year, and that raises questions. Dating is personal, and Facebook is under scrutiny for how it treats users' personal data. Now, this dating app would require people to set up separate profiles. Casey Newton of The Verge spoke to us from Facebook's developers conference. He described the app like this.
CASEY NEWTON: Your friends won't be able to see your dating profile, for example. Your dating profile isn't going to have your last name on it. But it will have some information about your interests, what you're looking for.
CORNISH: So I understand the stock for Match Group - and they own Tinder, OkCupid, Match.com and PlentyOfFish. They actually saw their stocks go down when this announcement came out. But here was the reaction from Joey Levin. He is the CEO of the company that owns a majority stake in Match. He said, quote, "come on in. The water's warm. Their product could be great for U.S.-Russia relationships" - so a little dig there over the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
CORNISH: But that does get at the issue of, like, why would anyone give more data to Facebook right now?
NEWTON: Yeah, I think it's a totally fair question. And my hope is between now and the time that this product rolls out, Facebook will say a lot more about how our data is going to be collected, how it's going to be used, how we can protect our privacy. But I think you hear something else in that quote from Joey Levin, which is existential panic.
NEWTON: If you follow Facebook, you know that when they decide they want to enter a market, they can absolutely crush a competitor. Last year, they decided to copy Snapchat stories, introduce that feature. And now Snapchat is really struggling.
CORNISH: Because this is an app developers conference and obviously everyone has been talking about privacy and data - right? - the last couple of months, what are some of the specific concerns people had about this?
NEWTON: Well, I think you heard Facebook talk about some of them. For example, will my friends be able to see my dating profile? Will my employer be able to see my dating profile? Another set of concerns I would say people have raised is, we know that Facebook has used our data to have ads targeted at us. I believe they said yesterday that they are not going to use our dating profiles for ad-targeting, but they are definitely going to know a lot more about us if we upload a kind of complete list of all of our desires onto their servers.
CORNISH: Is it also weird given the fact that Mark Zuckerberg's brainchild of Facebook originally started with something called FaceMash, which basically allowed users to rank each other by hotness? Is he back to his roots here?
NEWTON: There is something about Facebook coming full circle here (laughter).
CORNISH: Sad, sad circle, yeah.
NEWTON: It's definitely the case that when this started - yeah (laughing). Dating is the saddest circle in all of our lives or at least mine. But, you know, I do think there is something inevitable about this, right? The reason that Facebook's existed at colleges to begin with was often because people did want to know who their classmates were sometimes because they wanted to date them. And so it has seemed only natural that eventually Facebook would come around to building real dating features. And in some ways, the most surprising thing about it is that it took the company 14 years to get here.
CORNISH: What does it tell us that Facebook is unveiling this idea now? I mean, given that they've had all this controversy over the last few months, it sounds like it's just business as usual for them.
NEWTON: I think that is a fair way of looking at it. I think there also might be something to the idea that Facebook wants a feel-good story to tell. I wouldn't be surprised if they were just looking at ways that they could connect people in a way that felt really positive instead of ways that feel really fraught and dangerous.
CORNISH: Casey Newton is Silicon Valley editor at The Verge. Thank you for speaking with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.
NEWTON: It's my pleasure.
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