Market Hill, Cambridge City CentreDuncan Harris

Welcome to the new dystopian-utopia: spread the love and hand over your data!

Facebook is launching a new dating app. It has the potential to revolutionise matchmaking for the better, but only if people properly embrace their data being used to solve these problems.

How does this all work? Well, Facebook is setting up a dating service where users have profiles through their main Facebook accounts. Then, much like other online dating services, it will match profiles in a way it thinks will lead to the creation of happy couples. Facebook uniquely wants to make use of ‘events’ on its main platform as a way of connecting people romantically. If you are planning on going to a concert or play in Cambridge, say, then it can match you with another prospective attendee as your date for the evening. Facebook describes this as something closer to an organic form of match-making in comparison to other platforms that match individuals; it “[mirrors] the way people actually date”. Put simply, this new platform is similar to when Facebook recommends ‘friends’ but on data-fuelled dating-oriented steroids.

If you are planning on going to a concert or play in Cambridge, say, then Facebook can match you with another prospective attendee as your date

This has the potential to revolutionise matchmaking, especially given the mass of data Facebook has on its users. The power of data science and using artificial intelligence (AI) and related techniques is most simply described as pattern learning. There have been frequent examples of how a person’s political leanings can be accurately predicted by seemingly unrelated Facebook likes (with Cambridge Analytica being just one example). Matchmaking can potentially be done in just the same way, with the same accuracy applied to incredible effect.

Because Facebook ‘knows’ what users like, the events they have attended or are interested in attending, and the nature of relationships between some of its users, it is able to build a system that can predict how well people are suited. To take a single example, the similarities in likes, interests and people between my girlfriend and I will aid Facebook in understanding what makes two people connect as a couple. Of course, all relationships are different, but these differences will also show up in the patterns in the data. What is more,  Facebook could allow you to rank the relationships of your close friends so that Facebook can try and match you in what you think is a good relationship based on the examples of those you connect with already in your life. Okay, so maybe that is too creepy.

However, very few people dispute the fact that big data and AI techniques have the potential to solve problems that previously seemed insurmountable. Trying to find a partner from a billion Facebook accounts on the face of it seems just that; impossible, or at least unlikely. This is a feature of dating in our modern age; searching for one among many. Yet, data-utilising techniques and AI have been tried and tested in other areas. The most staggering examples are in healthcare, where American coders have written programmes that can detect the early signs of a cancer from an X-ray better than a panel of the world’s most experienced experts. What is more, this programme can analyse each X-ray in just a fraction of a second, much quicker and more efficiently than any professional.


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Now, this all sounds perfect; sign me up for love and romance, you may we be clamouring. However, as some of you have likely spotted there is, of course, a catch. For Facebook to be able to do this, and to do this as well as possible, it requires its users to throw themselves wholeheartedly into this new data-driven world. If it had the ability to use all of its users’ data for this purpose then I have little doubt it could successfully revolutionise the world of matchmaking. However, without full access to the data it needs, the results could be much more mixed.

Personally, I am very happy for the data Facebook has about my relationship to be used to help Facebook put together more couples, but I understand that many people will find this idea a bit odd. There is, however, little further harm in letting Facebook use your data for this new platform. There are bigger issues and debates around the data Facebook holds on its users, but this is not the question here. Facebook already has this data on you. Unless you are explicitly opting out from the platform altogether, you may as well benefit from the situation. Facebook already uses your personal data to target you with ads, so what is the harm in letting Facebook spark up your love life while it is at it?

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