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Of all the surprises at Facebook’s annual developer conference last week, CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s unexpected announcement that Facebook is launching a dating service may have taken the cake.It’s not at all that Facebook couldn’t launch a dating feature.The site offers features like "mutual crushes" (which let you know if someone likes you before you send them a message).The site also has HTTPS support to protect your privacy.Facebook doesn’t plan to make this a separate app, according to a company spokesperson.Facebook will make some recommendations based on interests and other data, like your location, but you’ll also be able to find possible matches by “unlocking” groups or events on Facebook, which will allow you to connect with other singles who have unlocked those same groups or events.It’s unclear, but a spokesperson said Facebook hopes to begin testing the feature in the coming months.Those tests will determine when it will roll out more broadly. Facebook doesn’t plan to run ads alongside these profiles, either, and won’t use data associated with a user’s dating profile or behavior to target them with ads on other Facebook properties, according to a spokesperson.

The Web offers a growing number of free personal ad and online dating services, many of which have become increasingly sophisticated and feature-laden over the past year.“We were right, just 14 years too early.” But what was so surprising about the announcement was the timing.Facebook is coming off of the most significant personal privacy scandal in company history.It actually makes a lot of sense, and Chief Product Officer Chris Cox even joked that he thought Facebook would have launched dating more than a decade ago.“One of the great ironies for me is that when a lot of us joined the very first version of the service in 2004, back when it was just a handful of college students, we were convinced that dating would be the next feature Facebook was going to add,” Cox said onstage at Facebook’s conference last week.Either person can send the first message, but they’ll only be allowed to send that one unless the recipient replies. The feature is being built by the company’s profile team, which is run by Will Cathcart, a long-tenured product VP who joined the company from Google in 2008.

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