Facebook announced the launch of their dating app on May 1st, and the news quickly shook up the worlds of tech and online dating. Match’s stock dropped by 20%, for example, dramatically plunging from a market cap evaluation of $12.97 billion on April 30th to $9.5 billion just two days later. The Facebook announcement was clearly a blow to Match, the parent company for dating apps like Tinder and OkCupid, since Facebook’s treasure trove of highly valuable user data could likely make it a strong competitor in the dating app market.
There’s little doubt that Facebook has the user data and engineering smarts to invent a powerful dating portal to help people find meaningful relationships. But given Facebook’s recent Cambridge Analytica data breach scandal, can people trust Facebook not to misuse their private information? Users would have to provide even more discrete and intimate information about the potential romantic partner they desire and entrust it to the dating services they sign up to.
How can we create a dating app world that is truly safe from hackers, competitors, and outside agents?
Signs suggest Facebook may have a solution in mind. One week later, Facebook made another major announcement — one that could be tied to the news about its planned dating app. Facebook is just beginning to explore blockchain technology and its potential for the company’s various digital products.
Early in May, Facebook opened a new internal project dedicated to exploring blockchain within the company, with former Vice President of Facebook Messenger David Marcus at the helm (Marcus joined the board of cryptocurrency platform Coinbase six months ago, so he is certainly crypto savvy enough to understand the potential the technology has for Facebook). According to Recode, the social media company may be interested in utilizing blockchain tech for encrypted storage of its users’ data.
If this is Facebook’s goal, they could be on the right track. Blockchain, the same technology that protects cryptocurrency, can help ensure that online dating is secure and private. Facebook diving into the world of blockchain is a smart business move given the recent publicity nightmare the company faced over privacy concerns. If they would employ this technology in their new dating app, it could not only create the safest possible experience for romance-seekers, but it also might help win back the trust of those users who’ve chosen to #DeleteFacebook.
There are many benefits to blockchain, as the information recorded on it cannot be altered or tampered with. One of blockchain’s main benefits is its decentralized status, which could appease the concerns of users who are worried that their social media apps will sell their private information to third parties.
Data in a blockchain can exist across thousands of systems, so no one company or organization controls the information encrypted in it, which means it would be impossible to misuse or sell the information to problematic third parties. If users’ Facebook data had been stored in a blockchain prior to its partnership with Cambridge Analytica instead of stockpiled on company servers, it’s possible the scandal could have been prevented.
Facebook was not the first social media app to abuse users’ information by selling it to advertisers. Dating apps have failed users in the past: in fact as recently as April 2018 Grindr came under fire for sharing the HIV status of its users with third parties If dating apps could restructure their financial models so that they would not need to rely on such partnerships for revenue, they could better guarantee user privacy through blockchain tech.
How Is It More Secure?
On blockchain, there’s no central point of failure, making it secure from hackers. Each block on a blockchain includes code specific to the block preceding it. If a hacker were to change the code behind a single block on a blockchain, all the following blocks on the chain would become invalid, making the alteration and its point of origin immediately detectable and traceable. Also, the proof of work feature on a blockchain requires certain information about any change in a block’s code and is much too time-consuming to falsify, as one proof of work for a single block can take ten minutes to produce.
Additionally, because no one single computer system is responsible for the blockchain reaction, blockchain lacks the vulnerabilities that come when a physical computer is hacked into. It would be nearly impossible for a system built on blockchain to be hacked, because the data is spread throughout many, many locations in a peer-to-peer network that requires verification from all participants and rejects nodes that have been tampered with, making it highly secure.
User identities stored on blockchain are more accurate. We’ve already seen how this works when blockchain is used in currency exchange: one blockchain-based company, Tonetag, uses three layers of encryption so that customers and merchants receive warnings about past fraudulent activity by either party before the transaction is made so they can both be sure that the other is trustworthy. For dating app users especially, this sort of increased transparency would be a major benefit.
Ever met up with someone you were matched with on a dating app in real life, only to discover that person is completely different from the way they described themselves on their profile? It’s a classic problem of online dating. If dating apps employed the same blockchain verification processes that currency exchange platforms already do, they could prevent the much-feared disaster of catfishing. Blockchain code rewards its users for implementing verification processes, so identities are more accurate. That also means the data can’t be manipulated. It’s completely transparent and protects information from alterations by nature of its design.
There are many documented cases of violent offenders who use dating apps to prey on and hurt others, usually women. Blockchain can even be utilized to keep predators off apps if implemented correctly and with the cooperation of law enforcement. One potential solution that utilizes blockchain technology already exists for a different purpose. A firearms startup called Blocksafe uses this tech to track weapon distribution so that individual guns can be traced to their owners and kept out of criminal hands. The blockchain tech used in Blocksafe can even log every instance when a shot is fired. If this method were utilized by Tinder and other apps, dating app users could be certain that their potential matches’ criminal histories are tracked before they even receive their first DM.