Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook F8

Facebook rolls out dating service and ‘Clear History’ feature

Image credit: Reuters/Stephen Lam

Amid intense scrutiny following the Cambridge Analytica data collection scandal, Facebook has announced a range of new features at its annual developer conference.

The two-day Facebook F8 conferences have served as showcases for new features for the social network and its subsidiaries, but also for experimental technologies under development at the company. Last year, Regina Dugan, head of Facebook’s Building 8 R&D unit, announced the company’s work on a ‘direct brain interface’ system which translates brainwaves directly to text.

At this year’s conference, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO, spoke extensively about the desire for greater user privacy following a “major breach of trust” revealed in an investigative report by The Observer which found that a data analytics company, Cambridge Analytica, had collected the data of tens of millions of Facebook users to create tools for political propaganda, based on personality profiles generated from this data.

The Observer’s report followed a difficult year for Facebook, in which the company has faced criticism not only over its retention of private user data, but also regarding the proliferation of abuse and misinformation on the platform.

Addressing some criticism, Zuckerberg spoke about the changes Facebook was making to address some of this criticism, such as by offering users advice on how to spot fake news and verifying political ads. The introduction of a ‘Clear History’ feature was announced, which will allow users to delete information about the apps and websites they have interacted with.

“We need to do more to keep people safer and we will,” said Zuckerberg during his keynote speech. “But we also need to keep building and bringing the world closer together.”

Most notably, Facebook announced that it would be launching a dating tool based on users’ profiles, which would allow them to engage in “meaningful interactions” with other users who share their interests. A messaging service for the tool will be separate from Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp and all dating activity will be hidden from Facebook friends. Following the announcement, shares in Match Group – which owns Tinder, PlentyofFish, OkCupid and Match.com – fell by 22 per cent.

“There are 200 million people on Facebook who list themselves as single,” said Zuckerberg. “And if we are committed to building meaningful relationships then this is perhaps the most meaningful of all.”

Facebook also announced the introduction of stylised ‘3D’ images taken with an ordinary camera, virtual reality (VR) rooms generated from photos taken in that location and a feature called ‘Watch Party’ which allows groups of friends to watch video simultaneously and provide live commentary as a set of floating heads next to the video.

JiffPom the dog at Facebook F8

Reuters/Stephen Lam

Image credit: Reuters/Stephen Lam

Instagram Direct will be introducing live video chats between individuals or for groups, and with the help of JiffPom – an internet celebrity and Pomeranian dog – Facebook revealed new augmented reality camera effects for Instagram. WhatsApp, acquired by Facebook in 2014, will be introducing group video calls and stickers developed by third parties.

Meanwhile, Oculus, Facebook’s virtual reality hardware arm, has made its standalone VR headset (Oculus Go) available. The headset will support Facebook features such as Watch Party.

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