Presuming Data We Release to Facebook Will Leak is a 'Healthy Attitude' - Professor

© AP Photo / Ben MargotFacebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif
Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif - Sputnik International
Facebook Dating has officially launched in the US, with the company promising to “make it easier to find love”. But the Silicon Valley giant’s unreliable track record keeping user data safe will make many think twice before setting up a ‘dating’ profile and sharing their intimate details with Facebook.

The new service will only be available for those 18-and-over as an opt-in feature, will be part of the existing Facebook app, and will require users to set up a separate profile.

Matchmaking will be based on users' interests, preferences, events they attend, and their groups and activity on Facebook and Instagram, which Facebook owns.

The company’s obvious advantage to rival dating apps like Tinder, Bumble and others is the data it has on you and your friends says Kevin Curran, professor of cybersecurity at the Department of Computing, Engineering and the Built Environment at Ulster University.

“Facebook’s move into dating is, of course, an attempt to generate more revenue and they have the potential to wipe out the main players in the market due to the data they currently store on a significant percentage of the word’s online population,” Curran noted.

In July the US Federal Trade Commission fined Facebook a record $5 billion for privacy violations, the largest ever data security penalty ever imposed by the FTC. It also said it would place new oversight restrictions on the tech giant.

“My first reaction to Facebook revealing it was entering the dating market was that it could actually be quite lucrative for them and not too difficult. My second reaction was that this could explode in their faces in the future if the more sensitive data associated with dating profiles gets leaked,” Prof. Curran said.

The new dating feature will also allow Facebook users to integrate their Instagram posts directly into their Facebook Dating profile and to add Instagram followers to ‘Secret Crush’ lists, but it’s hard to imagine that Facebook will be able to keep them secret. “Aspects such as the ‘secret crush’ list would be very embarrassing if leaked,” said the cybersecurity scholar, adding that he doesn’t expect Facebook to protect users' data any better in the future.

Another reason why Facebook has launched a dating feature is that the social network's usage, especially among the younger generation in the US, has been declining.

“The Infinite Dial research series from Edison Research and Triton Digital, which has been tracking Facebook usage since 2008, recently revealed that the proportion of Americans reporting they currently use the service has declined from 67% to 62%. Facebook simply has to respond,” Curran explained.

Younger users also prefer Instagram; that’s why the tech giant decided to integrate the two platforms. Facebook announced that soon users will be able to add Instagram Stories to their dating profile as well.

But keeping user data safe on Instagram is not something Facebook is good at either. Earlier this year, it revealed that millions of unencrypted Instagram passwords had been stored in plain text online.

Apart from the US, Facebook Dating is currently available in some countries in Latin and North America and Asia. Europe will have to wait a little bit longer: Facebook plans to launch its dating service there in early 2020.

But EU lawmakers have been monitoring companies like Facebook and Instagram closely. They will need to adhere to the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), “which seeks to give control to EU residents over their personal data and to simplify the regulatory environment for international business by unifying the regulation within the EU. Facebook have already changed their terms of service, which previously agreed with the company’s international headquarters in Ireland, to now come under US privacy law, which is less strict. It remains to be seen if this will work,” the expert pointed out.

“The public is now becoming aware of the importance of privacy and the negligence shown at times by Facebook, especially in the Cambridge Analytica fiasco,” Curran added. But despite Facebook promising that users will feel safe using its new product because they will have control of the information that they share, there’s no guarantee that data will be safe.

“In fact, a healthy attitude is to presume that any data we release to Facebook will eventually leak. Only time will tell if they are serious and effective in protecting sensitive information,” the scholar concluded.

The views and opinions expressed by the speaker do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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