A recently published Facebook patent application imagines an unnerving way to use your data. The company filed for a patent that explores piecing together information about a user’s entire household based on the pictures they upload, presumably for targeted advertising. And yes, Instagram photos were also cited in the filing.
The patent application was originally submitted back in May 2017 and made public yesterday. In it, Facebook details a system for cross referencing faces with other data—including shared IP addresses, hashtags, how frequently a person appears in your photos, comments, the whole shebang—to figure out who’s in your household and what its demographic makeup is. The filing also indicates Facebook could potentially analyze everything from past posts and status updates, to messaging and web browsing-related info. And it doesn’t even have to be your photos. Something as simple as your cousin posting a photo tagging your Thanksgiving dinner with the caption, “Thankful for my #family” could be enough for Facebook to glean your specific household information to, perhaps, make you a better target for Black Friday and Cyber Monday ads.
If you’re feeling a bit uneasy, you have every reason to be. For all the data Facebook collects, it doesn’t have the best track record of keeping it safe or being particularly transparent about what it’s used for. From giving advertisers your shadow contact information to bungling how it monitors the data handed to phone makers, it’s hard to even count all the ways Facebook has either mishandled or misrepresented what it does with user data.
On the plus side, the technology outlined in this particular patent application would glean data from photos users post themselves—and not from private messages. Companies regularly submit patent applications, and as always, there’s no guarantee if they’ll ever use the technologies outlined within. We reached out to Facebook and they told us as much: “Patents should never be taken as an indication of future plans; nor do we generally comment on specific coverage of Facebook patents or reasons for filing them,” a spokesperson said.
Still, next time maybe don’t give your paranoid friends and family a hard time when they untag themselves from your photos.