During the final week of my senior year, my alma mater hosted a “Last Chance Dance.” In an effort to help us out, the student council sponsored a survey where you could select a few people you were interested in, uh, dancing with that night. You were emailed a link where you were given a list of every member of the class — this was a tiny school — and if somebody you picked also picked you, both of you got an email letting you know. A great system. It seemed foolproof. How could telling a mysterious computer program whom you wanted to smash the night before graduation ever go wrong?
This is the concept behind Facebook’s new dating feature, Secret Crush, announced at Facebook’s F8 developer conference on Tuesday. Users will be able to select nine friends they’re interested in, and if any of those friends select them in turn, they’ll both be alerted. The feature is currently only available in places where Facebook’s previously announced dating features have already been released, which include Colombia, Canada, Thailand, Argentina, and Mexico. Over a dozen new countries in Asia and South America were also mentioned on Tuesday. The United States does not yet have either of these features.
This is a great idea if you’re Facebook. While dating apps like Tinder and Bumble are geared toward meeting somebody in your area whom you don’t already know, Facebook’s Secret Crush has an edge if you’re hoping to alert somebody currently in your orbit about your feelings. It is also, it should be noted, not a new concept. Apps and platforms built on mutual-notification systems have been a thing for years. (Anyone else remember Bang With Friends?) Which is exactly why, if you’re not Facebook, this is not a great idea.
Don’t tell Facebook whom you want to have sex with. Don’t tell them whom you want to date. This feature is available in places like Malaysia where anti-sodomy laws have been in place for decades and punishments can include up to 20 years’ imprisonment and whippings. Which is to say places where you really don’t want to play fast and loose with personal data. That said, we’ve got to give Facebook some benefit of the doubt here. “All activity that occurs in FB Dating stays in FB Dating and will not be shared externally,” a Facebook spokesperson said in an email to Wired about the new feature. It seems unlikely, given Facebook’s recent unending stream of privacy-related catastrophes, that the platform would build such a feature without proper encryption and protections in place. But still, the unease is hard to shake.
The chances are good, based on information collected about you and provided by you over many years, that the platform could already determine whom among your friends you are into. But don’t make it any easier for Facebook to figure that out. Especially since it often feels there’s just no way to know for certain who could end up with that information.
Which was something I and the other members of the class of 2014 learned firsthand. Turns out the Last Chance Dance survey wasn’t automated. Instead, all the data was collected by a guy in our class, Max, who notified each of us if we had matches. Which means Max, wherever he is — D.C.? I think? That’s where people who like data go, right? — has a fun trove of data on the sexual preferences of many of my classmates … and also me. Our five-year reunion is this summer. I plan to avoid making eye contact.