News & Press

Airbnb wants to give its hosts equity in its business

Airbnb wants to give the homeowners who power its service the opportunity to own a piece of its business. That’s why, as Axios reports, the $31-billion-valued company has written to the SEC to ask if its rules around security ownership can be revised.

Specifically, Airbnb is seeking a change to the SEC’s Rule 701 — which governs ownership of equity in companies — to allow a new kind of shareholder class for workers who participate in gig economy companies and their services. Uber, for one, has met with the SEC to propose a similar allowance but Airbnb’s argument is laid out in a letter that you can read here (thanks to Axios.)

“As a sharing economy marketplace, Airbnb succeeds when these hosts succeed,” the company wrote in one passage. “We believe that enabling private companies to grant hosts and other sharing economy participants equity in the company from an earlier stage would further align incentives between such companies and their sharing economy participants to the benefit of both.”

Airbnb is said to be planning to go public potentially as soon as next year.

While it isn’t clear how earning equity might work for an Airbnb host — or an Uber or Lyft driver, for that matter — further amendment of rules would be required. Currently, SEC regulations require that any private company with over 2,000 shareholders or 500 or more who are not U.S. accredited investors, must be registered.

That’s clearly a problem for Airbnb which has grown to more than five million listings since its foundation in 2008. It remains to be seen how many of those homeowners could own equity even were the rules amended to allow it. More generally, though, gig economy startups won’t pursue the equity options for contractors if doing so then triggers mandatory SEC reporting whilst they are private entities.

Then there are additional complications for businesses that have expanded outside of the U.S. market. Most of Airbnb’s are located overseas — the service claims to offer lodgings across some 81,000 cities in over 190 countries — which makes handing out U.S-based equity tricky.

Still, Airbnb’s public acknowledgment of its hosts and the crucial role they play is a positive part of that relationship. That’s something rare, for sure.

Most of the discussion around the role between marketplace provider and gig economy worker has been negative, with Uber in particular keen to distinguish between contractor and company staff.

While this modern take on working gives those who choose it a degree of flexibility like never before, they are left without the standard perks of being a conventional employee, such as paid vacation, benefits, overtime, health insurance and more. A slew of startups have sprouted to help cover some of those gaps, but their solutions all come at a cost to the worker, many of whom are already financially stretched.

Toyota’s autonomous mobility lead to speak at Startup Battlefield MENA

Hard to believe, but Startup Battlefield MENA is just over a week away. We’ve got some of the top founders and investors in the region speaking, including Magnus Olsson of Careem, Imad Kreidieh of Ogero, Mai Medhat of Eventtus, Konstantinos Papamiltiadis of Facebook and Henri Asseily of Leap Ventures, and many more!

As we told you last week, we’re bringing our premier Startup Battlefield competition for the first time to the Middle East and North Africa. Showcasing the hottest new startups in MENA and the top investors, if you want to be in the same room, you’d better grab your tickets now.

In addition to all of that, we’ll also host a really incredible workshop with Toyota. Mandali Khalesi, Global Head of Automated Driving Mobility and Innovation will be on hand to share Toyota’s latest automated driving research findings and its plans for the future.

And bring your questions and thoughts on how Toyota can best engage with the startup ecosystem in MENA! This is an interactive workshop and there will be plenty of time set aside for you to advise Toyota on what automated mapping, safety and driving mobility services should they be building in the MENA region.

Click here to see the full agenda, workshop schedule and to check out more speakers.

Buy your ticket today.

Swiping right on virtual relationships

There’s an episode in the latest season of the Hulu original series Casual, where the main character, Alex, tries his hand at dating in virtual reality. He quickly meets a woman and develops a big, adrenaline-inducing crush only to realize she’s a scammer out for his credit card information.

The season takes place around 2021 or 2022, when technological advances have made dating in VR both possible and socially acceptable. We’re not there yet, and we probably won’t be there as soon as the writers of the show think, but it’s time to imagine and plan for a future when entire relationships exist in and as a result of virtual reality.

Sextech entrepreneur and advocate Bryony Cole has built a career around the assumption that a full pivot to VR will happen in our lifetimes.

She’s the chief executive officer of Future of Sex, a podcast-turned-media company and sextech accelerator. Future of Sex has just released its inaugural report on virtual intimacy and plans to produce content on other topics at the intersection of technology and sex. 

Today, most people are more interested in Magic Leap’s new Angry Birds VR game than the ways in which VR can aid struggling relationships, but the report is full of interesting nuggets on how tech, like teledildonics (Internet-connected sex toys), is transforming intimacy.

There’s a whole class of startups named in the report embracing the notion that human experiences can be improved when powered by apps and devices. No, they aren’t advocating for you to bring your smartphone to the bedroom, but rather claiming that customizable tech can heighten the senses or create new avenues for exploration.

Kissenger, for example, has a mobile app that lets you exchange a kiss over the Internet. Fleshlight and Lovense sell Bluetooth-connected vibrators. And CamasutraVR streams virtual versions of real-life porn stars.

VR is the future of couples therapy

VR, Cole says, is a the forefront of the sextech industry’s transformation and if used correctly, can bolster relationships.

“It’s a new way for couples or thruples, or whatever relationship you’re in, to bond,” Cole told TechCrunch. “The ability to empathize with another person is enriched in this context, which is great, especially for understanding a lover.”

VR can facilitate more meaningful interactions for couples in long-distance relationships. If used right, it can fill the “intimacy gap,” or the space between a couple’s shared happiness and an individual’s personal happiness that, when too big, leads to many couple’s demise. 

As a safe space for experimentation, two people can explore fantasies, engage with educational content and even visit a couple’s therapist in VR. 

The release of the report is hot off the heels of Future of Sex’s fourth sextech hackathon. In New York, the company asked participants to create tech-enabled solutions to reinvent sex education for teenage boys, among other prompts. 

Women in sextech

Future of Sex partnered with porn site YouPorn to co-host the event and asked hackers to come up with ways to leverage YouPorn’s content, which includes VR porn, to improve the sex lives of viewers. VR porn is not a new phenomenon and while it can allow for more personal sexual experiences, researchers have warned that blurring the line between the real and the virtual could lead to ethical issues. How, for example, do you give consent in VR?

Women, who are often exploited for the purposes of sexual entertainment, need to be at the table while this content and other sextech are in development. Fortunately, Cole says, women are entering the sextech community in droves.

“[It’s] exploding at the moment and more and more women entrepreneurs are having a go at building a company,” she said. “It’s Important to highlight why women are getting involved in sextech especially in the current climate of #MeToo.”

On stage at TechCrunch Disrupt SF this year, Unbound, which makes fashion-forward vibrators and other sex toys for women, took home the second-place prize.

“Our dream at Unbound is for female sexual health to be viewed through the same lens as male sexuality — as a part of our overall health that deserves a conversation, platform, and shopping experience that doesn’t feel like a flaming pile of garbage,” Unbound founder Polly Rodriguez told TechCrunch’s John Biggs.

Rodriguez is a close friend of Cole’s — the community is still small — and she’s appeared on the Future of Sex podcast.

The podcast, hackathons and the 12-week accelerator program for sextech startups are part of Cole’s effort to expand the dialogue around VR & sextech, invite new voices into the movement and remove the stigma around having open and honest conversations about sex and intimacy.

“There has to be a way to invite more people into this conversation,” she said. “If we can normalize the conversation, we can raise the standards around talking about sex.”

White House says a draft executive order reviewing social media companies is not “official”

A draft executive order circulating around the White House “is not the result of an official White House policymaking process,” according to deputy White House press secretary, Lindsay Walters.

According to a report in The Washington Post, Walters denied that White House staff had worked on a draft executive order that would require every federal agency to study how social media platforms moderate user behavior and refer any instances of perceived bias to the Justice Department for further study and potential legal action.

Bloomberg first reported the draft executive order and a copy of the document was acquired and published by Business Insider.

Here’s the relevant text of the draft (from Business Insider):

Section 2. Agency Responsibilities. (a) Executive departments and agencies with authorities that could be used to enhance competition among online platforms (agencies) shall, where consistent with other laws, use those authorities to promote competition and ensure that no online platform exercises market power in a way that harms consumers, including through the exercise of bias.

(b) Agencies with authority to investigate anticompetitive conduct shall thoroughly investigate whether any online platform has acted in violation of the antitrust laws, as defined in subsection (a) of the first section of the Clayton Act, 15 U.S.C. § 12, or any other law intended to protect competition.

(c) Should an agency learn of possible or actual anticompetitive conduct by a platform that the agency lacks the authority to investigate and/or prosecute, the matter should be referred to the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice and the Bureau of Competition of the Federal Trade Commission.

While there are several reasonable arguments to be made for and against the regulation of social media platforms, “bias” is probably the least among them.

That hasn’t stopped the steady drumbeat of accusations of bias under the guise of “anticompetitive regulation” against platforms like Facebook, Google, YouTube, and Twitter from increasing in volume and tempo in recent months.

Bias was the key concern Republican lawmakers brought up when Mark Zuckerberg was called to testify before Congress earlier this year. And bias was front and center in Republican lawmakers’ questioning of Jack Dorsey, Sheryl Sandberg, and Google’s empty chair when they were called before Congress earlier this month to testify in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The Justice Department has even called in the attorneys general of several states to review the legality of the moderation policies of social media platforms later this month (spoiler alert: they’re totally legal).

With all of this activity focused on tech companies, it’s no surprise that the administration would turn to the Executive Order — a preferred weapon of choice for Presidents who find their agenda stalled in the face of an uncooperative legislature (or prevailing rule of law).

However, as the Post reported, aides in the White House said there’s little chance of this becoming actual policy.

… three White House aides soon insisted they didn’t write the draft order, didn’t know where it came from, and generally found it to be unworkable policy anyway. One senior White House official confirmed the document had been floating around the White House but had not gone through the formal process, which is controlled by the staff secretary.

Cinematic train wreck, “The Room”, is now on YouTube in its entirety

The Room has been ranked with Plan 9 From Outer Space as a strong contender for the “best” worst movie ever made — and it’s now available in its entirety on YouTube.

Written, directed, and starring Tommy Wiseau, The Room belongs in the same category as Plan 9, and Coven (which was immortalized in the 1999 documentary American Movie) as a paean to moviemaking by people who have no idea how to make a movie.

The combination of passion and ineptitude is what made The Room a cult classic after its release, and what made The Disaster Artist — the James Franco film it inspired so compelling (Ed Wood, the biopic from Tim Burton about the director behind Plan 9 is also amazing).

Writer, actor, and director Tommy Wiseau in a still from “The Room”

In “The Room” Wiseau plays Johnny, an investment banker caught in a bizarre love triangle with his best friend, Mark, played by Greg Sestero, and his fiancee, Lisa, played by Juliette Danielle.

It was Sestero’s book on the making of the film, “The Disaster Artist”, that inspired the eponymous movie directed by Franco and starring his brother Dave and Seth Rogen.

According to The Daily DotSestero and Wiseau are now promoting a straight-to-digital follow-up to their feature debut — a two-part black comedy called “Best F(r)iends”.

Viewers might just be better off watching the original contender for best worst movies, Plan 9, which is also available on YouTube (and below).

 

Comcast outbids Fox in $40B battle for Sky

Comcast has outbid Twenty-First Century Fox for the UK’s Sky, a final step in what’s been a years-long takeover battle between the two media conglomerates.

Comcast’s final offer gives Sky a roughly $39 billion price tag.

The acquisition of Sky, which has 23 million subscribers in the UK, Ireland, Germany, Austria and Italy, will give Comcast a much stronger foothold in the international market and much-needed ammo to compete with Amazon and Netflix in the streaming wars.

Both companies upped their offers for Sky at the settlement auction Saturday, with Comcast offering £17.28 per Sky ordinary share and Fox offering £15.67 per share. Comcast initially priced Sky’s shares at £14.75 apiece. Fox’s original offer was £14 per share.

Both companies will reveal their revised bids on Monday. Sky’s board will make its official recommendation by October 11.

Sky operates several brands including Sky News, Sky Sports and Sky Cinema.

Corporate venture investment climbs higher throughout 2018

Many corporations are pinning their futures on their venture investment portfolios. If you can’t beat startups at the innovation game, go into business with them as financial partners.

Though many technology companies have robust venture investment initiatives—Alphabet’s venture funding universe and Intel Capital’s prolific approach to startup investment come to mind—other corporations are just now doubling down on venture investments.

Over the past several months, several big corporations committed additional capital to corporate investments. For example, defense firm Lockheed Martin added an additional $200 million to its in-house venture group back in June. Duck-represented insurance firm Aflac just bumped its corporate venture fund from $100 million to $250 million, and Cigna lust launched a $250 million fund of its own. This is to say nothing of financial vehicles like SoftBank’s truly enormous Vision Fund, into which the Japanese telecom giant invested $28 billion of its own capital.

And 2018 is on track to set a record for U.S. corporate involvement in venture deals. We come to this conclusion after analyzing corporate venture investment patterns of the top 100 publicly traded, U.S.-based companies (as ranked by market capitalizations at time of writing). The chart below shows that investing activity, broken out by stage, for each year since 2007.

A few things stick out in this chart.

The number of rounds these big corporations invest in is on track to set a new record in 2018. Keep in mind that there’s a little over one full quarter left in the year. And although the holidays tend to bring a modest slowdown in venture activity over time, there’s probably sufficient momentum to break prior records.

The other thing to note is that our subset of corporate investors have, over time, made more investments in seed and early-stage companies. In 2018 to date, seed and early-stage rounds account for over 60 percent of corporate venture deal flow, which may creep up as more rounds get reported. (There’s a documented reporting lag in angel, seed, and Series A deals in particular.) This is in line with the past couple of years.

Finally, we can view this chart as a kind of microcosm for blue-chip corporate risk attitudes over the past decade. It’s possible to see the fear and uncertainty of the 2008 financial crisis causing a pullback in risk capital investment.

Even though the crisis started in 2008, the stock market didn’t bottom out until 2009. You can see that bottom reflected in the low point of corporate venture investment activity. The economic recovery that followed, bolstered by cheap interest rates that ultimately yielded the slightly bloated and strung-out market for both public and private investors? We’re in the thick of it now.

Whereas most traditional venture firms are beholden to their limited partners, that investor base is often spread rather thinly between different pension funds, endowments, funds-of-funds, and high-net-worth family offices. With rare exception, corporate venture firms have just one investor: the corporation itself.

More often than not, that results in corporate venture investments being directionally aligned with corporate strategy. But corporations also invest in startups for the same reason garden-variety venture capitalists and angels do: to own a piece of the future.

A note on data

Our goal here was to develop as full a picture as possible of a corporation’s investing activity, which isn’t as straightforward as it sounds.

We started with a somewhat constrained dataset: the top 100 U.S.-based publicly traded companies, ranked by market capitalization at time of writing. We then traversed through each corporation’s network of sub-organizations as represented in Crunchbase data. This allowed us to collect not just the direct investments made by a given corporation, but investments made by its in-house venture funds and other subsidiaries as well.

It’s a similar method to what we did when investigating Alphabet’s investing universe. Using Alphabet as an example, we were able to capture its direct investments, plus the investments associated with its sub-organizations, and their sub-organizations in turn. Except instead of doing that for just one company, we did it for a list of 100.

This is by no means a perfect approach. It’s possible that corporations have venture arms listed in Crunchbase, but for one reason or another, the venture arm isn’t listed as a sub-organization of its corporate parent. Additionally, since most of the corporations on this list have a global presence despite being based in the United States, it’s likely that some of them make investments in foreign markets that don’t get reported.

Singapore is the crypto sandbox that Asia needs

Singapore Blockchain Week happened this past week. While there have been a few announcements from companies, some of the most interesting updates have come from regulators, and specifically, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS). The financial regulator openly discussed its views on cryptocurrency and plans to develop blockchain technology locally.

For those who are unfamiliar, Singapore historically has been a financial hub in Southeast Asia, but now has also gradually become the crypto hub of Asia. Compared to the rest of Asia and the rest of the world, the regulators in Singapore are well-informed and more transparent about their views on blockchain and cryptocurrency. While regulatory uncertainties still loom over Korea and Japan, in Southeast Asia, the MAS has already released its opinion “A Guide to Digital Token Offering” that illustrates the application of securities laws to digital token offerings and issuances. Singaporean regulators have arguably been pioneering economic and regulatory standards in Asia since the early days of the country’s founding by Lee Kuan Yew in 1965.

Singapore is the first stop for foreign companies in crypto

In the past, I’ve said that Thailand is one of the most interesting countries in crypto in Southeast Asia. Nonetheless, for any Western or foreign company looking to establish a footing in Asia, or even for any local company in any Asian country looking to establish a presence outside of their own country, Singapore should be the first stop. It has become the go-to crypto sandbox of Asia.

There are a number of companies all over Asia, as well as in the West, that have already made moves into the country. And the types of cryptocurrency projects and exchanges that go to Singapore vary widely.

A few months ago, a Korean team called MVL introduced Tada, or the equivalent of “Uber” on the blockchain, in Singapore. Tada is an on-demand car sharing service that utilizes MVL’s technology. The Tada app is built on MVL’s blockchain ecosystem, which is specifically designed to serve the automotive industry, adjacent service industries, and their customers. In this case, MVL was looking to test out its blockchain projects in a progressive, friendly jurisdiction outside of Korea, but still close enough to its headquarters. Singapore fulfilled most of these requirements.

Relatedly, Didi, China’s ride-sharing company, has also looked to build out its own blockchain-based ride-sharing program, called VVgo. VVgo’s launch is pending, and its home is intended to be in Toronto, Singapore, Hong Kong or San Francisco. Given Singapore’s geographic proximity and the transparency of its regulators, it would likely be a good testing ground for Didi as well.

This week, exchanges such as Binance and Upbit from Korea have also announced their plans to enter the Singaporean market. A few days ago, Changpeng ZhaoCEO of Binance, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, announced the launch of a fiat currency exchange that will be based in Singapore. He also mentioned his company’s plan to launch five to ten fiat-to-crypto exchanges in the next year, with ideally two per continent. Dunamu, the parent company of South Korea’s largest crypto exchange Upbit, also just announced the launch of Upbit Singapore, which will be fully operational by October.

The team at Dunamu mentions how they are encouraged by MAS’s attitude towards cryptocurrency regulation and the vision of the country’s government to establish a strong crypto and blockchain sector. They also believe Singapore could be a bridge between Korea and the global cryptocurrency exchange market.

From a high level, the supply of crypto projects and trading volume in Singapore is certainly strong, and the demand also appears abundant. Following China’s ICO ban in late 2017, Singapore has become home to many financial institutions that can serve as potential investors for ICOs.

As recently featured on the China Money Network, Li Dongmei wrote that:

What is supporting such optimism is the quiet preparation of capital on a massive scale getting ready to act the “All In Crypto” mantra. “In recent months, there have been over a thousand foundations being established in Singapore by Chinese nationals,” said Chen Xianhui, an agent specialized in helping Chinese clients to register foundations in Singapore. Most of these newly established foundations are used setting up various token investments funds.

Singapore has become the first choice when crypto companies from both the West and the East are initially scoping out their market strategies in Asia, and companies want an overarching idea of what’s going on in the cryptocurrency world in the region.

In fact, it’s often the case that Southeast Asian crypto companies and leaders gather in Singapore before they go off and do crypto businesses in their own countries. It’s the place for one wants to tap all of the Asian crypto markets in one single physical location. The proof is in the data: in 2017, Singapore ascended to the number three market for ICO issuance based on the number of funds raised, trailing the United States and Switzerland.

Crypto is thriving due to regulator openness

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) takes a very practical approach to crypto. Currently, MAS divides digital tokens into utility tokens, payments tokens, and securities. In Asia, only Singapore and Thailand currently have such detailed classifications.

While speaking at Consensus Singapore this week, Damien Pang, Singapore’s Technology Infrastructure Office under the FinTech & Innovation Group (FTIG), said that “[MAS does] not regulate technology itself but purpose,” when in conversation discussing ICOs in Singapore. “The MAS takes a close look at the characteristics of the tokens, in the past, at the present, and in the future, instead of just the technology built on”.

Additionally, Pang mentioned that MAS does not intend to regulate utility tokens. Nevertheless, they are looking to regulate payment tokens that have a store of value and payment properties by passing a service bill by the end of the year. They are also paying attention to any utility or payment tokens with security features (i.e. a promise of future earnings, which will be regulated as such).

On the technology front, since 2017, Singapore authorities have been looking to use distributed ledger technology to boost the efficiency of settling cross-bank financial transactions. They believe that blockchain technology offers the potential to make trade finance safer and more efficient.

When compared to other Asia crypto hubs like Hong Kong, Seoul, or Shanghai, Singapore can expose one to the Southeast Asia market significantly more. I believe market activity will likely continue to thrive in the region as the country continues to act as the springboard for cryptocurrency companies and investors, and until countries like Korea and Japan establish a clear regulatory stance.

Fintech startups: Apply to exhibit for free as a TC Top Pick at Disrupt Berlin 2018

Fintech promises to be one of the hottest topics at Disrupt Berlin 2018, and you can take that to the bank — see what we did there? On 29-30 November thousands of attendees will descend on Berlin, and what better way to get your fintech business in front of them than to exhibit in Startup Alley?

Oh wait, we know a better way — apply to be a TechCrunch Top Pick and exhibit at Disrupt Berlin for FREE! Our highly discerning editors will review every application and choose up to five of the absolute best early-stage fintech startups. Each TC Top Pick receives one free Startup Alley Exhibitor Package along with prime real estate in Startup Alley where they can strut their stuff in front of influential technologists and investors, potential collaborators and customers. It’s an opportunity you can’t afford to miss, so don’t wait — apply before the 28 September deadline.

Here’s what you get with a Startup Alley Exhibitor Package.

  • One-day exhibit space
  • Three Disrupt Berlin Founder Passes
  • Access to CrunchMatch (our free investor-to-startup matching platform)
  • Access to the Disrupt press list
  • A chance to be selected as one of the Startup Battlefield Wild Card companies (and you might even compete in our $50,000 startup-pitch competition)

Exhibiting in Startup Alley can help you build connections and relationships you might not otherwise make. Consider Zeroqode, a company that exhibited in Startup Alley at Disrupt Berlin 2017.

Startup Alley attendees chose Zeroqode as a Wild Card company on day three, which earned them a five-minute interview with TechCrunch editor John Biggs on the Startup Alley Showcase Stage. What’s more, TechCrunch shot that interview and promoted it, along with an article penned by Biggs, across its social media platforms.

Here’s what Vlad Larin, the company’s co-founder, had to say about the experience.

“Exhibiting in Startup Alley was a massively positive experience. It gave us the chance to show our technology to the world and have meaningful conversations with investors, accelerators, incubators, solo founders and developers. The publicity we received from the on-stage interview brought a lot of people to our website. We had a huge spike in traffic, and we’re still feeling the positive business effects of that interview.”

You’ll also have the opportunity to hear some of Europe’s fintech movers and shakers speak from the Main Stage. People like Anne Boden, the founder and CEO of Starling Bank and Ricky Knox, the CEO and co-founder of Tandem Bank.

Disrupt Berlin 2018 takes place on 29-30 November. If you want a shot at being one of the fintech TC Top Picks and exhibiting for free in Startup Alley, then apply here before 28 Sept. We can’t wait to see you in Berlin!

Seven reasons not to trust Facebook to play cupid

This week Facebook has launched a major new product play, slotting an algorithmic dating service inside its walled garden as if that’s perfectly normal behavior for an ageing social network.

Insert your [dad dancing GIF of choice] right here.

Facebook getting into dating looks very much like a mid-life crisis — as a veteran social network desperately seeks a new strategy to stay relevant in an age when app users have largely moved on from social network ‘lifecasting’ to more bounded forms of sharing, via private messaging and/or friend groups inside dedicated messaging and sharing apps.

The erstwhile Facebook status update has long been usurped by the Snapchat (and now Instagram) Story as the social currency of choice for younger app users. Of course Facebook owns the latter product too, and has mercilessly cloned Stories. But it hardly wants its flagship service to just fade away into the background like the old fart it actually is in Internet age terms.

Not if it can reinvigorate the product with a new purpose — and so we arrive at online dating.

Facebook — or should that be ‘Datebook’ now?! — is starting its dating experiment in Colombia, as its beta market. But the company clearly has ambitious designs on becoming a major global force in the increasingly popular online dating arena — to challenge dedicated longtime players like eHarmony and OkCupid, as well as the newer breed of more specialized dating startups, such as female-led app, Bumble.

Zuckerberg is not trying to compete with online dating behemoth Tinder, though. Which Facebook dismisses as a mere ‘hook up’ app — a sub category it claims it wants nothing to do with.

Rather it’s hoping to build something more along the lines of ‘get together with friends of your friends who’re also into soap carving/competitive dog grooming/extreme ironing’ than, for e.g., the raw spank in the face shock of ‘Bang with Friends‘. (The latter being the experimental startup which tried, some six years ago, to combine Facebook and sex — before eventually exiting to a Singapore-based dating app player, Paktor, never to be heard of again. Or, well, not until Facebook decided to get into the dating game and reminded us all how we lol’d about it.)

Mark Zuckerberg’s company doesn’t want to get into anything smutty, though. Oh no, no, NO! No sex please, we’re Facebook!

Facebook Dating has been carefully positioned to avoid sounding like a sex app. It’s being flogged as a tasteful take on the online dating game, with — for instance — the app explicitly architected not to push existing friends together via suggestive matching (though you’ll just have to hope you don’t end up being algorithmically paired with any exes, which judging by Facebook’s penchant for showing users ‘photo memories’ of past stuff with exes may not pan out so well… ). And no ability to swap photo messages with mutual matches in case, well, something pornographic were to pass through.

Facebook is famously no fan of nudes. Unsurprisingly, then, nor is its buttoned up dating app. Only ‘good, old-fashioned wholesome’ text-based chat-up lines (related to ‘good clean pieces of Facebook content’) here please.

If you feel moved to text an up-front marriage proposal — feeling 100% confident in Facebook’s data scientists’ prowess in reading the social media tea leaves and plucking your future life partner out of the mix — its algorithms will probably smile on that though.

The company’s line is that dating will help fulfil its new mission of encouraging ‘time well spent’ — by helping people forge more meaningful (new) relationships thanks to the power of its network (and the data it sucks out of it).

This mission is certainly an upgrade on Facebook’s earlier and baser interest in just trying to connect every human on planet Earth to every other human on planet Earth in some kind of mass data-swinging orgy — regardless of the ethical and/or moral consequences (as Boz memorably penned it), as if it was trying to channel the horror-loving spirit of Pasolini’s Salò. Or, well, a human centipede.

But that was then. These days, in its mid teens, Facebook wants to be seen as grown up and a bit worth. So its take on dating looks a lot more ‘marriage material’ than ‘casual encounters’. Though, well, products don’t always pan out how their makers intend. So it might need to screw its courage to the sticking place and hope things don’t go south.

From the user perspective, there’s a whole other side here too though. Because given how much baggage inevitably comes with Facebook nowadays, the really burning question is whether any sensible person should be letting Mark Zuckerberg fire cupid’s arrows on their behalf?

He famously couldn’t tell malicious Kremlin propaganda from business as usual social networking like latte photos and baby pics — so what makes you think he’s going to be attuned to the subtle nuances of human chemistry?!

Here are just a few reasons why we think you should stay as far away from Facebook’s dalliance with dating as you possibly can…

  1. It’s yet another cynical data grab
    Facebook’s ad-targeting business model relies on continuous people tracking to function — which means it needs your data to exist. Simply put: Your privacy is Facebook’s lifeblood. Dating is therefore just a convenient veneer to slap atop another major data grab as Facebook tries to find less icky ways to worm its way back and/or deeper into people’s lives. Connecting singles to nurture ‘meaningful relationships’ is the marketing gloss being slicked over its latest invitation to ask people to forget how much private information they’re handing it. Worse still, dating means Facebook is asking people to share even more intimate and personal information than they might otherwise willingly divulge — again with a company whose business model relies upon tracking everything everyone does, on or offline, within its walled garden or outside it on the wider web, and whether they’re Facebook a user or not.
    This also comes at a time when users of Facebook’s eponymous social network have been showing signs of Facebook fatigue, and even changing how they use the service after a string of major privacy scandals. So Facebook doing dating also looks intended to function as a fresh distraction — to try to draw attention away from its detractors and prevent any more scales falling away from users’ eyes. The company wants to paper over growing scepticism about ad-targeting business models with algorithmic heart-shaped promises.
    Yet the real underlying passion here is still Facebook’s burning desire to keep minting money off of your private bits and bytes.
  2. Facebook’s history of privacy hostility shows it simply can’t be trusted
    Facebook also has a very long history of being outright hostile to privacy — including deliberately switching settings to make previously private settings public by default (regulatory intervention has been required to push back against that ratchet) — so its claim, with Dating, to be siloing data in a totally separate bucket, and also that information shared for this service won’t be used to further flesh out user profiles or to target people with ads elsewhere across its empire should be treated with extreme scepticism.
    Facebook also said WhatsApp users’ data would not be mingled and conjoined with Facebook user data — and, er, look what ended up happening there…!!
    ————————————————————————————————–>

    And then there’s Facebook record of letting app developers liberally rip user data out of its platform — including (for years and years) ‘friend data’. Which almost sounded cosy. But Facebook’s friends data API meant that an individual Facebook user could have their data sucked out without even agreeing to a particular app’s ToS themselves. Which is part of the reason why users’ personal information has ended up all over the place — and in all sorts of unusual places. (Facebook not enforcing its own policies, and implementing features that could be systematically abused to suck out user data are among some of the many other reasons.)
    The long and short history of Facebook and privacy is that information given to it for one purpose has ended up being used for all sorts of other things — things we likely don’t even know the half of. Even Facebook itself doesn’t know which is why it’s engaged in a major historical app audit right now. Yet this very same company now wants you to tell it intimate details about your romantic and sexual preferences? Uhhhh, hold that thought, truly.

  3. Facebook already owns the majority of online attention — why pay the company any more mind? Especially as dating singles already have amazingly diverse app choice…
    In the West there’s pretty much no escape from Facebook Inc. Not if you want to be able to use the social sharing tools your friends are using. Network effects are hugely powerful for that reason, and Facebook owns not just one popular and dominant social network but a whole clutch of them — given it also bought Instagram and WhatsApp (plus some others it bought and just closed, shutting down those alternative options). But online dating, as it currently is, offers a welcome respite from Facebook.
    It’s arguably also no accident that the Facebook-less zone is so very richly served with startups and services catering to all sorts of types and tastes. There are dating apps for black singlesmatchmaking services for Muslims; several for Jewish people; plenty of Christian dating apps; at least one dating service to match ex-pat Asians; another for Chinese-Americansqueer dating apps for women; gay dating apps for men (and of course gay hook up apps too), to name just a few; there’s dating apps that offer games to generate matches; apps that rely on serendipity and location to rub strangers together via missed connections; apps that let you try live video chats with potential matches; and of course no shortage of algorithmic matching dating apps. No singles are lonely for dating apps to try, that’s for sure.
    So why on earth should humanity cede this very rich, fertile and creative ‘stranger interaction’ space, which caters to singles of all stripes and fancies, to a social network behemoth — just so Facebook can expand its existing monopoly on people’s attention?
    Why shrink the luxury of choice to give Facebook’s business extra uplift? If Facebook Dating became popular it would inexorably pull attention away from alternatives — perhaps driving consolidation among a myriad of smaller dating players, forcing some to band together to try to achieve greater scale and survive the arrival of the 800lb Facebook gorilla. Some services might feel they have to become a bit less specialized, pushed by market forces to go after a more generic (and thus larger) pool of singles. Others might find they just can’t get enough niche users anymore to self-sustain. The loss of the rich choice in dating apps singles currently enjoy would be a crying shame indeed. Which is as good a reason as any to snub Facebook’s overtures here.
  4. Algorithmic dating is both empty promise and cynical attempt to humanize Facebook surveillance
    Facebook typically counters the charge that because it tracks people to target them with ads its in the surveillance business by claiming people tracking benefits humanity because it can serve you “relevant ads”. Of course that’s a paper thin argument since all display advertising is something no one has chosen to see and therefore is necessarily a distraction from whatever a person was actually engaged with. It’s also an argument that’s come under increasing strain in recent times, given all the major scandals attached to Facebook’s ad platform, whether that’s to do with socially divisive Facebook ads, or malicious political propaganda spread via Facebook, or targeted Facebook ads that discriminate against protected groups, or Facebook ads that are actually just spreading scams. Safe to say, the list of problems attached to its ad targeting enterprise is long and keeps growing.
    But Facebook’s follow on claim now, with Dating and the data it intends to hold on people for this matchmaking purpose, is it has the algorithmic expertise to turn a creepy habit of tracking everything everyone does into a formula for locating love.
    So now it’s not just got “relevant” ads to sell you; it’s claiming Facebook surveillance is the special sauce to find your Significant Other!

    Frankly, this is beyond insidious. (It is also literally a Black Mirror episode — and that’s supposed to be dysfunctional sci-fi.) Facebook is moving into dating because it needs a new way to package and sell its unpleasant practice of people surveillance. It’s hoping to move beyond its attempt at normalizing its business line (i.e. that surveillance is necessary to show ads that people might be marginally more likely to click on) — which has become increasingly problematic as its ad platform has been shown to be causing all sorts of knock-on societal problems — by implying that by letting Facebook creep on you 24/7 it could secure your future happiness because its algorithms are working to track down your perfect other half — among all those 1s and 0s it’s continuously manhandling.
    Of course this is total bunkum. There’s no algorithmic formula to determine what makes one person click with another (or not). If there was humans would have figured it out long, long ago — and monetized it mercilessly. (And run into all sorts of horrible ethical problems along the way.)
    Thing is, people aren’t math. Humans cannot be made to neatly sum to the total of their collective parts and interests. Which is why life is a lot more interesting than the stuff you see on Facebook. And also why there’s a near infinite number of dating apps out there, catering to all sorts of people and predilections.
    Sadly Facebook can’t see that. Or rather it can’t admit it. And so we get nonsense notions of ‘expert’ algorithmic matchmaking and ‘data science’ as the underpinning justification for yet another dating app launch. Sorry but that’s all just marketing.
    The idea that Facebook’s data scientists are going to turn out to be bullseye hitting cupids is as preposterous as it is ridiculous. Like any matchmaking service there will be combinations thrown up that work and plenty more than do not. But if the price of a random result is ceaseless surveillance the service has a disproportionate cost attached to it — making it both an unfair and an unattractive exchange for the user. And once again people are being encouraged to give up far more than they’re getting in return.
    If you believe that finding ‘the one’ will be easier if you focus on people with similar interests to you or who are in the same friend group there’s no shortage of existing ‘life avenues’ you can pursue without having to resort to Facebook Dating. (Try joining a club. Or going to your friends’ parties. Or indeed taking your pick from the scores of existing dating apps that already offer interest-based matching.)
    Equally you could just take a hike up a mountain and meet your future wife at the top (as one couple I know did). Safe to say, there’s no formula to love. And thankfully so. Don’t believe anyone trying to sell you a dating service with the claim their nerdtastic data scientists will hook you up good and proper.
    Facebook’s chance of working any ‘love magic’ will be as good/poor as the next app-based matchmaking service. Which is to say it will be random. There’s certainly no formula to be distilled beyond connecting ‘available to date’ singles — which dating apps and websites have been doing very well for years and years and years. No Facebook dates necessary.
    The company has little more to offer the world of online dating than, say, OkCupid, which has scale and already combines the location and stated interests of its users in an attempt to throw up possible clicks. The only extra bit is Facebook’s quasi-bundling of Events into dating, as a potential avenue to try and date in a marginally more informal setting than agreeing to go on an actual date. Though, really, it just sounds like it might be more awkward to organize and pull off.
    Facebook’s generic approach to dating is also going to offer much less for certain singles who benefit from a more specialized and tailored service (such as a female-focused player like Bumble which has created a service to cater to women’s needs; or, indeed, any of the aforementioned community focused offerings cited above which help people meet other likeminded singles).
    Facebook appears to believe that size matters in dating. And seems to want to be a generic giant in a market that’s already richly catering to all sorts of different communities. For many singles that catch-all approach is going to earn it a very hard left swipe.
  5. Dating takes resource and focus away from problems Facebook should actually be fixing
    Facebook’s founder made ‘fixing Facebook’ his personal priority this year. Which underlines quite how many issues the company has smashing through its plate. We’re not talking little bug fixes. Facebook has a huge bunch of existentially awful hellholes burning through its platform and punching various human rights in the process. This is not at all trivial. Some really terrible stuff has been going on with its platforms acting as the conduit.
    Earlier this year, for instance, the UN blasted Facebook saying its platform had became a “beast” in Myanmar — weaponized and used to accelerate ethnic violence against the Rohingya Muslim minority.
    Facebook has admitted it did not have enough local resource to stop its software being used to amplify ethnic hate and violence in the market. Massacres of Rohingya refuges have been described by human rights organizations as a genocide.
    And it’s not an isolated instance. In the Philippines the country has recently been plunged into a major human rights crisis — and the government there, which used Facebook to help get elected, has also been using Facebook to savage its critics at the same time as carrying out thousands of urban killings in a bloody so-called ‘war on drugs’.
    In India, Facebook’s WhatsApp messaging app has been identified as a contributing factor in multiple instances of mob violence and killings — as people have been whipped up by lies spread like lightning via the app.
    Set against such awful problems — where Facebook’s products are at very least not helping — we now see the company ploughing resource into expanding into a new business area, and expending engineering resource to build a whole new interface and messaging system (the latter to ensure Facebook Dating users can only swap texts, and can’t send photos or videos because that might be a dick pic risk).
    So it’s a genuine crying shame that Facebook did not pay so much close attention to goings on in Myanmar — where local organizations have long been calling for intelligent limits to be built in to its products to help stop abusive misuse.
    Yet Facebook only added the option to report conversations in its Messenger app this May
    So the sight of the company expending major effort to launch a dating product at the same time as it stands accused of failing to do enough to prevent its products from being conduits for human rights abuses in multiple markets is ethically uncomfortable, to say the least.
    Prospective users of Facebook Dating might therefore feel a bit queasy to think that their passing fancies have been prioritized by Zuckerberg & co over and above adding stronger safeguards and guardrails to the various platforms they operate to try to safeguard humans from actual death in other corners of the globe.
  6. By getting involved with dating, Facebook is mixing separate social streams
    Talking of feeling queasy, with Facebook Dating the company is attempting to pull off a tricky balancing act of convincing existing users (many of whom will already be married and/or in a long term relationship) that it’s somehow totally normal to just bolt on a dating layer to something that’s supposed to be a generic social network.
    All of a sudden a space that’s always been sold — and traded — as a platonic place for people to forge ‘friendships’ is suddenly having sexual opportunity injected into it. Sure, the company is trying to keep these differently oriented desires entirely separate, by making the Dating component an opt-in feature that lurks within Facebook (and where (it says) any activity is siloed and kept off of mainstream Facebook (at least that’s the claim)). But the very existence of Facebook Dating means anyone in a relationship who is already on Facebook is now, on one level, involved with a dating app company.
    Facebook users may also feel they’re being dangled the opportunity to sign up to online dating on the sly — with the company then committed itself to being the secret-keeping go-between ferrying any flirtatious messages they care to send in a way that would be difficult for their spouse to know about, whether they’re on Facebook or not.
    How comfortable is Facebook going to be with being a potential aid to adultery? I guess we’ll have to wait and see how that pans out. As noted above, Facebook execs have — in the past — suggested the company is in the business of ‘connecting people, period’. So there’s perhaps a certain twisted logic working away as an undercurrent and driving its impulse to push for ever more human connections. But the company could be at risk of applying its famous “it’s complicated” relationship status to itself with the dating launch — and then raining complicated consequences down upon its users as a result. (As, well, it so often seems to do in the name of expanding its own business.)
    So instead of ‘don’t mix the streams’, with dating we’re seeing Facebook trying to get away with running entirely opposite types of social interactions in close parallel. What could possibly go wrong?! Or rather what’s to stop someone in the ‘separate’ Facebook dating pool trying to Facebook-stalk a single they come across there who doesn’t responded to their overtures? (Given Facebook dating users are badged with their real Facebook names there could easily be user attempts to ‘cross over’.)
    And if sentiments from one siloed service spill over into mainstream Facebook things could get very messy indeed — and users could end up being doubly repelled by its service rather than additionally compelled. The risk is Facebook ends up fouling not feathering its own nest by trying to combine dating and social networking. (This less polite phrase also springs to mind.)
  7. Who are you hoping to date anyway?!
    Outside emerging markets Facebook’s growth has stalled. Even social networking’s later stage middle age boom looks tapped out. At the same time today’s teens are not at all hot for Facebook. The youngest web users are more interested in visually engaging social apps. And the company will have its work cut out trying to lure this trend-sensitive youth crowd. Facebook dating will probably sound like a bad joke — or a dad joke — to these kids.
    Going up the age range a bit, the under ~35s are hardly enamoured with Facebook either. They may still have a profile but also hardly think Facebook is cool. Some will have reduced their usage or even taken a mini break. The days of this age-group using Facebook to flirt with old college classmates are as long gone as sending a joke Facebook poke. Some are deleting their Facebook account entirely — and not looking back. Is this prime dating age-group suddenly likely to fall en masse for Facebook’s love match experiment? It seems doubtful.
    And it certainly looks like no accident Facebook is debuting Dating outside the US. Emerging markets, which often have young, app-loving populations, probably represent its best chance at bagging the critical mass of singles absolutely required to make any dating product even vaguely interesting.
    But in its marketing shots for the service Facebook seems to be hoping to attract singles in the late twenties age-range — dating app users who are probably among the ficklest, trickiest people for Facebook to lure with a late-stage, catch-all and, er, cringey proposition.
    After that, who’s left? Those over 35s who are still actively on Facebook are either going to be married — and thus busy sharing their wedding/baby pics — and not in the market for dating anyway; or if they are single they may be less inclined towards getting involved with online dating vs younger users who are now well accustomed to dating apps. So again, for Facebook, it looks like diminishing returns up here.
    And of course a dating app is only as interesting and attractive as the people on it. Which might be the most challenging hurdle for Facebook to make a mark on this well-served playing field — given its eponymous network is now neither young nor cool, hip nor happening, and seems to be having more of an identity crisis with each passing year.
    Perhaps Facebook could carve out a dating niche for itself among middle-age divorcees — by offering to digitally hand-hold them and help get them back into the dating game. (Although there’s zero suggestion that’s what it’s hoping to do with the service it debuted this week.)
    If Zuckerberg really wants to bag the younger singles he seems most interested in — at least judging by Facebook Dating’s marketing — he might have been better off adding a dating stream to Instagram.
    I mean, InstaLovegram almost sounds like it could be a thing.

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