SAN JOSE, Calif. (Reuters) – Facebook Inc will offer its first dating service, Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said on Tuesday, signaling the entry of the world’s largest social network into a growing market that sent shares of established dating site operators tumbling.
Shares of Match Group Inc, the owner of popular dating app Tinder, fell more than 18 percent on the news. IAC, Match Group’s parent company, dropped almost 14 percent.
Zuckerberg told software developers at Facebook’s annual F8 conference that a dating service would be a natural fit for a company that specializes in connecting people online.
“There are 200 million people on Facebook that list themselves as single, so clearly there’s something to do here,” Zuckerberg said.
A dating service could increase the time people spend on Facebook and be a “big problem” for competitors such as Match, said James Cordwell, an analyst at Atlantic Equities.
“But the initial functionality looks relatively basic compared to those offered by Match’s services, so the impact Facebook has on the dating space will be down to how well it executes in this area,” Cordwell said.
A prototype displayed on screens at the F8 conference showed a heart shape at the top-right corner of the Facebook app. Pressing on it will take people to their dating profile if they have set one up.
The prototype was built around local, in-person events, allowing people to browse other attendees and send them messages.
The feature will be for finding long-term relationships, “not just hook-ups,” Zuckerberg said. It will be optional and will launch soon, he added, without giving a specific day.
Facebook Chief Product Officer Chris Cox said in a separate presentation that the company would share more over the next few months.
The dating service is being built with privacy in mind, so that friends will not be able to see a person’s dating profile, Zuckerberg said.
Concerns about Facebook’s handling of privacy have grown since the social network’s admission in March that the data of millions of users was wrongly harvested by political consultancy Cambridge Analytica.
Cox said he had been thinking about a dating feature on Facebook since 2005, when he joined the company about a year after its founding.
The company began seriously considering adding a dating service in 2016, when Zuckerberg posted on his Facebook page a photo of a couple who had met on the network, Cox said.
Thousands of people responded to Zuckerberg’s post with similar stories about meeting partners on Facebook, Cox said. “That’s what got the gears turning,” he said.
People will be able to start a conversation with a potential match by commenting on one of their photos, but for safety reasons that Cox did not specify, the conversations will be text-only, he said.
Reporting by David Ingram in San Jose; Additional reporting by Munsif Vengattil in Bengaluru; Editing by Bernard Orr and Richard Chang