Who will use Facebook to find love?


Facebook wants you to make friends. And now it wants you to find our soulmate.

Founder and chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg said during Facebook’s FB, +1.08%   annual conference on Wednesday that the biggest social media site on the planet would launch a dating feature later this year. “Today, we are announcing a new set of features, coming soon, around dating,” he said. “This is going to be for building real, long-term relationships, not just hook-ups.”

The company is entering a crowded space: The dating industry is worth around $3 billion, with revenue split between advertising and subscription services, up revenue up around 5% per year, according to a report by research firm IBISWorld. Of that, around half is from online dating. But it has one big advantage: More than 2 billion members around the world. As dating pools go, they don’t get much bigger than that.

A Facebook spokeswoman told MarketWatch the new feature will allow users to set up a dating profile separate from their normal Facebook account, and activity on dating profiles won’t be shared on the News Feed. Like Tinder, this dating service will only show users’ first names. (That’s useful, given that so many people tell fibs on dating sites.) Users will not be matched with friends on Facebook, but rather others who have marked themselves as “single” on the social media network.

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Shares of Match Group MTCH, -22.09% which owns Tinder and OkCupid, were down 9.6% Tuesday following Facebook’s announcement. Several major online dating platforms, including Tinder, Hinge, and Bumble, use Facebook’s platform to connect profiles to dating profiles, using photos and first names in the app. Skittish singletons can then look the person up on Facebook, if they have mutual friends, and find out more about them. In announcing its own dating service, Facebook has essentially cut out the middle man.

But who will actually use the feature? Meredith Golden, a dating coach based in New York City, said she believes the new feature will be used largely by divorcees and users over 40 who may be less likely to use other online services. Even though a Facebook dating service could act in the same way as other location-based dating apps, people know it mostly as a familiar and unthreatening place to talk to friends. It’s an almost seamless transition to dating.

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“There are millions of singles in this demographic who want to meet someone but have reservations about using dating apps,” she said. “If they’ve already been using Facebook and feel comfortable with the format, this will be an easy transition for someone reentering the dating market.”

This is an increasingly lucrative market. Online dating is growing in popularity for people in their 50s and older, according to the Pew Research Center. The number of 55 to 65-year-olds dating online has doubled from 6% in 2013 to 12% in 2017, it found. Still, online dating is still much more common in younger generations, with the share of 18 to -24-year-olds using online dating services nearly tripling from 10% to 27% in that time.

From a data point of view, it’s not the best timing. Facebook is currently under fire for how it uses user data, following a scandal involving Cambridge Analytica, a firm that used data to influence the 2016 presidential elections, and improperly accessed the data of at least 87 million Facebook users. Consumers may be put off Facebook extending its ecosystem into yet another part of people’s social lives, in the same way Amazon AMZN, +1.03%  has done with e-commerce.

Still, Zuckerberg apologized for the privacy violations and said the company would review all third party apps accessing data on the site. What’s more, the company already has your data, so there may be less incentive for single users to log onto yet another site.