Facebook is finally returning to its philosophical roots with its American launch of Facebook Dating. It will allow you to match with friends of friends and/or strangers, and suggest matches on the basis of your Facebook activity. Here’s a quick lowdown:

When was it launched? On September 5, 2019. It is available in US and 19 other countries. It will arrive in Europe in 2020. Announced at F8 in May 2018, it was first launched in Colombia on September 20, 2018.

What will it do? According to Facebook, it will:

  • Integrate Instagram posts directly into users’ Facebook Dating Profile
  • Allow you to add Instagram followers and Facebook Friends to your Secret Crush lists
  • By end of 2019, enable you to add Facebook Stories and Instagram Stories to your Dating Profile, and they too will disappear after 24 hours.

That sounds like fun. How do I start dating on Facebook Dating?

  1. Live in one of the 20 countries where this feature is available, or have a VPN (latter isn’t very effective because the app can match you only with people within 100 miles of you)
  2. Be over 18 years old.
  3. Opt into Facebook Dating and create a Dating profile. This Dating profile is different from your main Facebook profile.
  4. Add up to 9 photos, and answer a few ice-breaker questions. Voila! You can now start dating.
  5. Like a dating suggestion? Comment directly on their profile or Like it. Don’t like them? Tap “Not interested”. Want to reconsider? Tap “Second Look”.

Are there any safety features to protect me from creeps online? Yes:

  • Report and block anyone
  • Prohibit people from sending photos, links, payments or videos in messages
  • Screenshots disabled (MediaNama tested this feature)
  • Share details of upcoming date and/or live location with a trusted person via Messenger

What about privacy features? Facebook is trying very hard to be on the right side of the privacy debate. Here’s what the company will do:

  • Opt-in feature. No default Facebook Dating profiles will be created without permission.
  • Match with friends of friends and/or people not in your friend circle (read: strangers). Blocked people on Facebook remain blocked on Dating.
  • Dating activity stays in Facebook Dating and is not shared with on Facebook profile or News Feed.
  • Only your first name and age will come from your Facebook profile. For all other information, you can choose to import it, or start afresh on the Dating profile.
  • Gender identity is not part of Dating profile by default.

How will Facebook know who is a good match for me? You will be suggested to people who have also opted in and vice versa, on the basis of your preferences, interests and other things you do on Facebook. You can also choose to get dating choices from the groups you are a part of, and the events you have attended or will be attending.

That’s well and good. I want to know if my friends like like me! Well, you are a bit out of luck then because Facebook Dating will match you only with friends of friends and/or people not in your friend circle (read: strangers).

But WAIT! There’s a caveat to it. Something called a Secret Crush.

What is the Secret Crush? On your Facebook Dating profile, you can add up to 9 Facebook friends as your Secret Crushes. If your crush has opted into Facebook dating, they will get a notification that someone has a crush on them. If they have a crush on you too, you’ll be matched and voila! Cupid! If it’s not a match, nobody will know.

Can I integrate my Instagram account with my Dating profile? Yes, you have to opt in, and then you can also add Secret Crushes from your Instagram followers. But 9 remains the limit. You can also add Instagram posts to your Dating profile.

That sounds fun, but this is Facebook we are talking about. What data will they collect on me? Well, they have said that “Your Dating activity, such as people you like or pass on, won’t be shared with anyone outside Dating”, but they haven’t said who is in Dating to begin with. Will they show us ads along with potential matches? Suggest restaurant where we could meet up? Will our Dating data be shared with (read: sold to) them? We don’t know.

That sounds more like the Facebook we all know. What else can go wrong? Oh, a lot! Here’s a quick list of things that Facebook has not clarified:

  • Using Facebook profiles to build Dating profiles would amplify the problem of echo chambers. And gaming this algorithm will be, well, as easy as the click of a button.
  • When Dating uses Facebook activity to suggest matches, what all data does it use — does it have access to my photos that are visible only to me? What about the life updates that are only visible to a subset of my friends? Are privacy settings on the main Facebook profile now meaningless?
  • We know that we can control what our potential matches see on our Dating profile, but can we control which Facebook activities control the date suggestions? One wouldn’t necessarily want proclivity for Farmville to be a factor in determining who their next date is. We don’t know.
  • Given Facebook’s push towards interoperability, will Dating use my Messenger chats and direct messages on Instagram to suggest dates? Will WhatsApp chats also be eventually scraped to build our Dating profiles given Facebook’s plan to combine all of them? We don’t know.
  • Will Facebook display targeted ads on Dating? How will they work? What kind of data will be collected and stored from the Dating app itself? Will our Dating activity influence the kind of ads we get on FB? We don’t know.
  • Will Facebook ever release a paid version of the app?
  • We know Facebook is creepy. Will it use facial recognition technology to suggest dates who look similar to people whose profiles that we frequently visit? Is that even on the table? We don’t know.
  • And let’s be real, this is Facebook we’re talking about. A data leak does not have low probability, but is just a matter of time. What is the potential fallout of that? Knowing what data Facebook will collect from this app is crucial to understand that.

Facebook definitely has an advantage over the rest of dating apps. It has over 170 million users in US, while Tindr has 50 million users across the world. It enters this segment with a wealth of user data that it can leverage to beat out competition, but given its history with privacy, data protection, and protecting vulnerable groups online, for the time being, I would rather stick with Bumble.