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Is data and dating a match made in heaven?

Data could be used to avoid the pitfalls online dating has been criticised for in the past, to provide a more honest assessment of a potential match.

TransUnion Africa CEO Lee Naik.
TransUnion Africa CEO Lee Naik.

Would you trust Mark Zuckerberg to set you up on a blind date?

That was the question singles everywhere were asking themselves when Facebook announced its foray into the world of online dating a few months ago. The buzz behind Facebook Dating, promising to match users based on their preferences, mutual friends and similar interests, was so great that stocks for Match Group, owner of brands like OkCupid and Tinder, came crashing down.

Since then, we've had our first sneak peek of the platform currently being tested by Facebook employees, including what looks to be a seamless and user-friendly sign-up page. There are planned features like Conversation Starters, used to help break the ice; and Community, where users can view their mutual groups. It also looks like users will have the option of making their profile visible to people attending the same events as them.

However, the biggest piece of news about the platform is that it will launch natively as part of the Facebook app. No additional downloads needed; all you'd potentially have to do is opt in and answer a few quick questions to get started.

With more than 200 million singles currently signed up to Facebook, it's a potential game-changer in the world of online match-making. Facebook Dating has access to a massive user base of potential connections, and with that a rich wellspring of information on user behaviour and preferences.

With more than 200 million singles currently signed up to Facebook, it's a potential game-changer in the world of online match-making.

Imagine the possibilities if Facebook can leverage all of that data into a match-making experience that goes beyond what existing dating site algorithms can do. Hopeless romantics might recoil at the idea, but it's a natural evolution of how society is using technology to connect the right people at the right time.

Facebook's machine learning is already going beyond what the limits of what was previously possible. Just recently, the Facebook AI team created a system that could potentially translate an alien language into English. Is the next frontier being able to conquer the complicated, messy world of love? Could finding the perfect partner soon be as easy as generating a Spotify playlist?

Is it all just a numbers game?

At first glance, the realms of online dating and credit risk assessment might seem worlds apart, the kind of odd couple pairing that's perfect for a romcom. But there are some very similar principles at play. Both involve making real-time assessments of complex individuals based on limited information. In a nutshell, is the individual worth investing in?

Imagine the same principles applied to dating: the ability to browse a profile and get a solid sense of whether someone would make a compatible partner, both now and in the future. We can already model how likely someone is to be a credit risk, and it's not long before there'll be means of assessing possible relationship risk.

We could theoretically use data to avoid the pitfalls that online dating has been criticised for in the past (shallowness, dishonesty and judgmentalism) for a more honest idea of just who it is you're talking to. You could potentially root out dating fraud (yes, it's a thing) using similar models to those that sniff out credit and identity fraud. You might not know that the person you're talking to stole their profile picture, but an AI trained to root out identify theft might. Welcome to the world of KYC: know your catfish.

Facebook has access to a treasure trove of alternate data, to the extent of being able to predict which relationships among users would last. It's a major advantage in a future where an estimated 70% of all new relationships will begin online.

For love or money

Alright, maybe you're not into the idea of AIs setting up your blind dates. Or you prefer your romances to emerge offline, in all their comfortable slowness. Perhaps, like me, you've been married since before smartphones were a thing, and have never needed to learn which swipe means which. Can analytics help you find or hold onto lasting love?

Again, digging into the data can reveal some useful insights. TransUnion data shows that openly discussing finances is an important part of a stress-free marriage. Talk to your partner about their spending habits, agree on your shared financial goals and work towards them.

In fact, study after study has shown that financial wellness and relationship success are closely linked, and credit scores are one of the most accurate ways to predict long-term marital success. It turns out that the couple that pays together stays together.

Whether you're using online dating or you've been married for long enough that you've forgotten what a first date looks like, one truth has remained constant: authenticity, honesty and trust are the hallmarks of a successful, long-lasting relationship. Wooing someone is only part of the equation; it's how you stay together that really counts.

What do you think of Facebook Dating? Can we apply a more data-driven approach to romance and relationships without commoditising them?

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