There isn’t a single aspect of life online that Facebook hasn’t tried to become involved in over recent years. The blue social media brand has come a long way from when it was a simple tool to keep upper-class American university students in touch with each other. It’s even come a long way from being a simple social network. Facebook is now big business, and it wants to become even bigger. This year, one of its big plans was to get involved in the dating game.
It suits Facebook’s MO to buy into whatever’s working at the moment – we’ve seen it in the past when it’s either bought up small companies that offer a service that could rival them, like WhatsApp or Instagram, or just come up with its own version of a piece of software and put other people out of business. Presumably, someone within Facebook’s senior management team has spent much of the last few years watching Tinder grow into the world’s most profitable dating brand, and decided they wanted a piece of the action.
While this is a sound idea on paper, Facebook’s more recent big business ideas have struggled to get off the ground. Last year we saw they try to muscle in on the online slots business by introducing the Facebook High 5 Casino. Presumably, their data showed that many of their users were clicking off Facebook to go and play online slots, and so they thought that they could keep those users where they were by offering online slots through the site and taking a cut of the revenue. The service is still available, but it doesn’t appear to be popular. Players seem to want to play online slots at websites like Rose Slots that specialize with them rather than trusting Facebook with their money.
Speaking of money, we may never see Facebook’s ‘cryptocurrency’ Libra appear at all. Although the project hasn’t officially been canceled by Mark Zuckerberg’s team, the general feeling is that it’s in trouble. US regulators have made it very clear on numerous occasions that they take a very dim view of Facebook being in control of a digital currency, and several of the big-name companies who were once signed up to be partnered with the project have pulled out. With no clear route to market and few key strategic partners left to assist them with doing so, it’s hard to see how the company intends to press ahead with its plans to take on Bitcoin.
If Facebook were hoping that 2020 would see a change in fortunes for them when it comes to new products, they’ve had a rude awakening. After months of planning, trials, and beta testing, it’s now been confirmed that Facebook will not be allowed to roll out its dating service in the European Union – and the refusal of permission came via a very stern approach. Facebook appears to have tried to take the EU by surprise when it announced at the start of February that it intended to introduce Facebook dating on February 13th. The EU felt that they hadn’t had enough information from the company about how it planned to protect the data of people using the service and so it made the decision to raid the company’s offices in Dublin and see if it could get what it wanted that way. Facebook took the hint. As of right now, the launch has been suspended, and no new date has been given for its future availability.
Rather than accepting that the EU and its regulators are preventing it from going ahead with its plan, Facebook’s current line is that they’re ‘making sure the product is right’ for the EU market. It also insists that all necessary information required under the General Data Protection Regulation was provided to the EU – something that the Union appears to disagree with. In news that should probably worry everybody involved in Facebook at a senior management level, the EU also confirmed that it currently has eleven active investigations open regarding Facebook, including a potential breach of privacy laws involving WhatsApp.
Any individual breach could see Facebook fined up to 4% of its annual global revenue. Should the company be found to be at fault in all eleven cases, that would be a maximum possible fine of 44% of global revenue. It’s almost unthinkable that the EU would actually levy a fine that high, but just the prospect alone should be chilling for people who have shares in the company.
While the launch of Facebook Dating has been suspended – possibly forever – in the EU, it has gone ahead as planned in other parts of the world, including the United States of America. The response, however, is less than enthusiastic. Some media commentators have wondered what the point of introducing the new feature is at all when everyone who wants to use the internet for dating already uses Tinder or a Tinder-like product. The service has been available for six months already in some parts of the world and doesn’t appear to have made much of a dent in Tinder’s market share at all. This, like Libra and the casino we mentioned earlier, could turn out to be yet another expensive Facebook folly.
It’s hard not to feel like Facebook has made its own bed when it comes to these failures. The terrible year of press it endured in 2018 caused users to lose confidence in Facebook’s ability – and perhaps even its willingness – to protect their private data properly, and not to hawk it to advertising companies for the highest price. Now, every time Facebook asks for more information – such as the data it would need to potentially find love matches for you on a dating service – people are reluctant to engage. People want Facebook to have less access to their data, not more. If the company is looking to develop more products and services, it would probably be well advised to make sure those products and services can run on whatever data they already hold about their users.
Facebook is, for now at least, too big to fail. If the dating service is a bust, the company will just swallow the cost and move on to the next thing. In terms of PR and positivity around the company, though, they could do with a quick win from somewhere. Sadly for them, it doesn’t look like Facebook Dating is going to provide it.