Facebook wants to monitor your facial expressions with forward facing cameras, watch you sleep, and monitor your weekly routine. These describe just two of the “thousands” of patent applications filed by the social media company since it went public in 2012.
Surprised? Of course you’re not. Creeped out? Of course you are.
The New York Times recently reviewed “hundreds” of Facebook’s patent applications, and found that the company “has considered tracking almost every aspect of its users’ lives: where you are, who you spend time with, whether you’re in a romantic relationship, which brands and politicians you’re talking about.” Apparently, they even tried to patent a method for predicting when your friends will die (insert wow emoji here).
“Taken together, Facebook’s patents show a commitment to collecting personal information, despite widespread public criticism of the company’s privacy policies and a promise from its chief executive to ‘do better,’” says the Times.
It’s like a bad habit and they just can’t stop. “Yes! We’re going to quit stalking you! We promise….ummm….right after we file this one more patent application to eavesdrop on your conversations. We promise. Just one more, OK? Shut up. WE CAN STOP ANYTIME WE WANT.”
The Times listed several of the creepiest patents applied for by Facebook. Here are descriptions of five of them.
Facebook has filed patent applications that describe…
- The ability to tell “whether you’re in a romantic relationship using information such as how many times you visit another user’s page, the number of people in your profile picture and the percentage of your friends of a different gender.”
- Analyzing pictures to create a unique camera “signature” using faulty pixels or lens scratches. “That signature could be used to figure out that you know someone who uploads pictures taken on your device, even if you weren’t previously connected. Or it might be used to guess the ‘affinity’ between you and a friend based on how frequently you use the same camera.”
- Using your phone microphone to identify the television shows you watch and whether ads were muted. “It also proposes using the electrical interference pattern created by your television power cable to guess which show is playing.”
- Tracking your weekly routine and sending notifications to other users of deviations from the routine. It also describes using your phone’s location in the middle of the night to establish where you live.
- Correlating the location of your phone to locations of your friends’ phones to deduce with whom you socialize most often. “It also proposes monitoring when your phone is stationary to track how many hours you sleep.”
Don’t worry though. Just because they’re applying for patents doesn’t mean they’re actually going to use them. Allen Lo, a Facebook vice president and deputy general counsel, and the company’s head of intellectual property, told the Times, “Most of the technology outlined in these patents has not been included in any of our products, and never will be.”
They just like applying for patents. You know. For fun.
To be fair. Sometimes companies file patents defensively, in order to beat others to the punch. And things like tracking your sleep probably sound more nefarious than they actually are. After all, my Fitbit app does exactly that. It depends how you word these things.
Still, Jennifer King, the director of consumer privacy at the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School, told the Times that collected personal information could be used for more evil purposes than targeted advertising, like swaying elections or manipulating users’ emotions.
Regardless, Facebook isn’t alone. Google apparently applied for a patent to make teddy bears and rabbits equipped with cameras and microphones. And both Google and Amazon have filed patents for systems designed to spy on your with cameras and sensors in your home to know everything from your mood to your medical conditions.
This is the world we live in. Might as well get used to it.