Facebook Inc. applying patent software that can be used to create a profile of a user's household by making guesses about how many people live in the household, what their relationships are with each other, what interests they share and what electronic devices they use.
This system will utilize the wealth of information Facebook has about its users – including photos, comments, message delivery history, and web browsing activities – and can be used to help target advertisements, according to patent applications.
"Without knowledge of the user's household features, most items sent to users are incompatible with the user and are likely to be ignored," said the patent application, which was submitted last year and published Thursday.
This software will analyze the images posted to Instagram or Facebook. (Even users who have never uploaded photos can still be tagged in other users' photos.) To help determine whether people live in the same house, the patent application says, software can see how often people are tagged in a shared photo and in the description photo. Software will not be limited to using photos that include everyone in the household; rather, the patent application shows, it will take into account the photos of individuals and couples.
This application shows that Facebook can also combine "last posts, status updates, friendships, message delivery history, previous tagging history" and web search history to collect profiles of households or families. The profile, in turn, can be made available to third parties who want to target "content" for users, he said.
Facebook declined to comment Friday about the details of the patent application but said that applying for a patent does not always mean building or using software.
"We often look for patents for technology that we have never implemented, and patents should not be considered an indication of future plans," the Facebook representative said in a statement.
The Menlo Park, California, company, which has struggled this year to maintain public confidence in its platform security, launched a device this month that will help gather more information about people in their homes called Portals, which have intelligence – talking and optimized for video chatting.
In the past, Facebook was contracted with third-party data brokers such as Acxiom and Experian to offer ad targeting based on the user's family structure, income level, and other data. That stopped the practice in March, however, after the revelation that another third-party company, Cambridge Analytica, might have violated Facebook's policy by sharing and storing Facebook user data.
Security issues continue. This fall, Facebook revealed violations affecting 29 million user accounts; hackers access user information including name, gender, language, relationship status, religion, birthday, friend list, chronology and the latest conversation title.
Now there is concern that the level of predictive analysis put forward in the patent application will cause additional problems in the vein.
"This is what I call the classic case of secondary use," said Pam Dixon, founder and executive director of the World Privacy Forum. "Someone signed up for Facebook, or Instagram for that matter, to post photos or maybe stay in touch with old college friends. I think people don't intend to have all their relational lines questioned and mapped by Facebook and used for purposes people don't expect. "
Based on household profiles of seven children, Facebook can make economic conclusions, for example, Dixon said. He also said that using artificial intelligence to analyze images from families could risk drawing conclusions based on ethnicity or gender.
"Today, Facebook allows people to target ads based on information that is already available about you. It's only based on facts, "Dixon said. "But with this (the proposed system), it is traditional analytic predictive data analytics. This places people in categories based on who predicts their Facebook. This is where we enter the area of injustice and the potential for bias and discrimination. "
A woman uses the Facebook application on her smartphone. The social media giant applied for a patent on technology to better understand who was in the household and the similarities of those people.