Facebook has come under fire for launching a "creepy" dating feature that encourages users to reveal romantic feelings for their friends.
The company, which announced the hidden crush feature at its F8 conference, said the tool is an attempt to foster real-world relationships and make the platform a more intimate place for groups of friends.
The feature lets users mark up to nine friends that they are interested in romantically on a private crush list - only letting the object of their fancy know if the feeling is mutual.
“Secret Crush lets you create a private list of friends you might be interested in,” said Facebook's app chief Fidji Simo. “No one will know who is on your list or even that you have opted in to Facebook dating.”
If that friend then picks the same friend as their own Secret Crush, the two will be matched. Until then, the secret admirer will be kept anonymous from the Facebook user.
The new feature has taken Facebook back to its earliest roots as a website for rating US college singles at Harvard.
Unlike other dating apps like Tinder, which largely rely on connecting people to those they do not know, Facebook is trying to link up users with people they already know, and may already have connections with.
In its earliest form, Facebook began as a “hot or not” style app, called Facemash, which encouraged users to rate each other. When Zuckerberg founded Thefacebook in 2004, dating was seen as a key use case.
Facebook's shift comes response to criticism over failing to curb misinformation and manipulation of the platform used by 2.3 billion people, and missteps on its handling of private user data.
"It can be hard to find your sense of purpose when you are connected to billions of people at the same time," Zuckerberg told the developers gathered in San Jose, California.
"Privacy gives us the freedom to be ourselves."
The company also launched a "Meet New Friends" feature which is being gradually rolled and will let users opt in to getting acquainted with others interested in fresh connections within shared communities.
“Zuckerberg realised early on that at college people wanted to know who was single,” said Matt Navarra, a social media consultant, “after 15 years it has come full circle.”
There are some concerns with the Secret Crush feature. For one thing, users could try and spam the feature until they find a match. Facebook says it will limit the number of times users can swap out their nine crushes to one per day.
It added that it will not store any private data about who users have a Secret Crush on that could be used for advertising targeting. However, dating remains a potentially untapped money-maker for Facebook, even if it has chosen not to convert money off it yet.
“It is an area of people's lives that they have yet to be able to get rich data on. What are their dating habits or interests. It is a new revenue area they haven’t explored,” Navarra said.
“Here's the bottom-line: Do I trust Facebook more today than I did yesterday? No. I dont,” Futurum Research analyst Olivier Blanchard said on Twitter.
“In fact, I feel a lot less comfortable about FB than I did yesterday: Creepier features, no discernible progress on serious problems, and more opacity around content.”
The company's dating service, which matches users with people who are not their immediate friends, was launched in a handful of countries last year. It has now expanded to 19, although is not coming to the UK imminently. The features are expected to come to the US later this year.