If there were two words that you wouldn’t choose to put together, it would be “Facebook” and “Dating”. Aside from the social network behemoth’s legendarily cavalier attitude to privacy, there’s an unerring feeling that the type of people that would use it enthusiastically could well be the sort of people you’d swipe left on anywhere else.
All of which means that the announcement that Facebook Dating‘s European launch, due today, has been postponed comes with a slight touch of “meh”.
What is quite shocking though, is the reason for the delay. Data Protection officers in Ireland have revealed that Facebook has provided none of the paperwork that was requested so that its service could be vetted for EU compliance.
After the service was rolled out in the US last year, the company promised that Europe would follow in ‘early 2020’. What it didn’t factor for, seemingly, is that under GDPR rules, anyone wanting to start a site that trades in user data needs to be able to prove they’ve actually given some thought to the users.
That means a full impact assessment that demonstrates a full understanding of and compliance with the law. Apparently, it seems that Facebook didn’t think it applied to them.
Like much Big Tech, Facebook is based out of Dublin and as such, it’s the Irish that needed to be informed. Yet, ten days ago, when Facebook announced on that it would be launching in Europe on Valentine’s Day, it appeared that it had done so without even submitting an impact assessment, let alone waiting for it to be approved.
From what the Irish authorities have said, it seems that Facebook either intended to ‘fudge’ the documentation or thought that for some reason, it didn’t apply to them.
A statement from the Irish Data Protection Commission explains:
“Facebook Ireland first contacted the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) in relation to its intention to roll-out a new Dating feature in the EU on Monday 3 February. We were very concerned that this was the first that we’d heard from Facebook Ireland about this new feature, considering that it was their intention to roll it out tomorrow, 13 February.
“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.”
Here’s the thing. It was Facebook that actually pulled the plug on the launch when faced with the mountain it hadn’t bothered to climb. That suggests that it really thought that it had done everything it was supposed to, suggesting it hadn’t read the instructions – or had no intention of doing it.
Sadly, Facebook’s previous rap sheet suggests that the second may well be the case, having shown repeatedly that it is no respecter of EU law. Until, that is, it gets threatened with sanctions.
If you’re wondering why I’ve got such a bee in my bonnet about this – you need only two words:
Now I’m not saying that anything like that is still going on – as far as anyone is aware – but imagine if it was? The personal info collected on dating sites is amongst our most personal of personals. If Facebook Dating turned out not to be compliant, or even just a bit less transparent than we’d expect, there’s every risk that your list of turn-ons and previous dates could end up mashed in with the part of your Facebook profile that tells advertisers you like pickled beetroot and Seinfeld.
In Facebook’s defence, in as much as I can offer one, the biggest social media platform in the world is a pretty good sea for fishing, but this week’s events have demonstrated once again that it’s a company that is desperate to drill even deeper into our lives, but isn’t willing to play the rules – you know the ones – the ones that say that with great power comes great responsibility? Yeah, them.
It’s utterly contemptuous to the system, to the principles that it claims to work to, and most importantly, it’s contemptuous to its user base. When contacted for a statement, a spokesperson for the company said:
“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. 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.”
So, even when all this gets ironed out, it’s fair to think that people may want to steer clear of giving Zuck access to any more saleable content, particularly when it comes to dating.