Facebook Dating dumps Valentine’s Day launch as data regulator investigates

13 Feb 2020

Image: © wachiwit/Stock.adobe.com

Facebook has had to scrap plans to launch its dating platform in Europe in time for Valentine’s Day after the Irish Data Protection Commission stepped in.

Facebook’s plans to launch a dating service on the world’s largest social media network have been stalled as the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) has stepped in to investigate the new feature.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg first teased Facebook Dating at the F8 conference in 2018, and a limited release began with Colombia, Thailand, Canada, Argentina and Mexico. By the following year’s conference, Facebook announced an expansion to 14 more countries, and the prospect of a Valentine’s Day launch in Europe had been expected for 2020.

Why is the DPC investigating Facebook Dating?

The DPC revealed yesterday (12 February) that it had been contacted by Facebook Ireland regarding its plans to roll out a dating feature in the EU.

Facebook reached out to the data regulator – which has oversight on the company’s EMEA headquarters based in Dublin – about the planned dating service on 3 February, with plans to release the feature today (13 February).

In its statement, the DPC said it was “very concerned” about the 10 days’ notice given. It added: “Our concerns were further compounded by the fact that no information/documentation was provided to us on 3 February in relation to the Data Protection Impact Assessment or the decision-making processes that were undertaken by Facebook Ireland.”

In an effort to secure the appropriate documentation, authorised officers of the DPC conducted an inspection at Facebook Ireland on 10 February. By 11 February, Facebook had contacted the DPC to say it would postpone the roll-out of the dating service.

“It’s really important that we get the launch of Facebook Dating right so we are taking a bit more time to make sure the product is ready for the European market,” a company spokesperson said.

“We worked carefully to create strong privacy safeguards, and to complete the data processing impact assessment ahead of the proposed launch in Europe, which we shared with the Irish Data Protection Commission when it was requested.”

Dating’s data dangers

Facebook originally announced Facebook Dating in 2018, when it was embroiled in the Cambridge Analytica scandal regarding misuses of personal data by third parties. In this context, concerns were raised about how the social network would manage the personal data arising from online dating interactions.

Meanwhile, other popular dating apps have recently been criticised for their data-sharing practices. Earlier this month, the DPC announced that it has launched an investigation into Tinder regarding the “ongoing processing of users’ personal data”.

A study from the Norwegian Consumer Council (NCC) published last month found that 10 popular apps may be sharing users’ personal information with third parties without adequately informed consent.

The apps studied included the dating apps Grindr, Happn, OkCupid and Tinder, which collect user data such as gender, age, location and behaviour, as well as personal details used in the matchmaking process, such as sexuality, political views and drug use.

The NCC found that the apps in its study were feeding data to more than 100 third parties, which themselves might broker this data and pass it on to further parties. “These practices are both highly problematic from an ethical perspective, and are rife with privacy violations and breaches of European law,” said Finn Myrstad, director of digital policy at the NCC.

LGBTQ dating app Grindr, in particular, was criticised by the NCC for its data-sharing practices. The Grindr privacy policy says its advertising partners may also collect data and how this information is then used and shared is governed by the third parties’ privacy policies. However, Grindr does not list all those third parties should a user want to establish a complete picture of how their data is being used and, thus, be fully informed in giving their consent.

The NCC and NOYB, data privacy activist Max Schrems’ organisation, have filed three data protection complaints against Grindr and five of the ad-tech companies from the 2020 study.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.