already knows a lot about us, but it could soon be able to guess your income, if a newly patented technology ever comes to fruition.
The social media giant wants to build a system that collects users’ personal data, such as education, homeownership and internet usage, in order to predict their socioeconomic status.
The patent was filed on July 27, 2016, but was just made public on Thursday.
The filing suggests an algorithm that may help improve Facebook’s targeting capabilities, so that it can serve up more relevant advertisements to users.
A decision tree starts by asking what the user’s age is and, from there, asks a question that would be seemingly relevant to that user’s age group.
In the filing, 20 to 30-year-olds are asked how many internet devices they own, while 30 to 40-year-olds are asked whether or not they own a house.
Other information that’s considered is a person’s travel history, what kinds of devices the user owns, how many internet connected devices they own and what their highest level of education is.
At the bottom of the decision tree, a question asks ‘What is the probability that the user is in the middle class?’
The patent notes that, generally, a user’s socioeconomic group is tied to a user’s income
But unsurprisingly, Facebook acknowledges that users might not be comfortable offering up how much they make per year.
‘Online systems often do not have information about the income of users, for example, because the users are typically not inclined to share income information, which may be sensitive information, on online systems,’ the patent states.
So instead, Facebook is side-stepping questions about income and using other personal data to make conclusions on its own.
It not only uses data supplied by users on the platform, but can also refer to ‘actions performed by the user on [Facebook].’
‘By predicting the socioeconomic groups of users, [Facebook] is able to help the third party present sponsored content to the target users,’ according to the patent.
‘Third parties are able to effectively promote their products or services, and the online system can provide a more engaging user experience to users,’ the filing notes.
Facebook would use the decision tree to group users into three classes — working class, middle class or upper class.
It’s unclear if the patent will ever actually be used for user targeting, however.
‘We often seek patents for technology we never implement, and patents should not be taken as an indication of future plans,’ a Facebook spokesperson told The Hill.
Facebook has already been criticized for knowing too much about its users, with many arguing that it doesn’t respect user privacy.
The firm has filed other patents related to user tracking, including one that described a system meant to detect and respond to users’ emotions, according to CBInsights.
One patent described a technology that would capture images of the user through smartphone or laptop cameras, even when the user isn’t actively using the camera.
It would use that data to monitor how users emotionally react to certain kinds of content.
However, such technology could prove to be technically difficult or, worse, an ‘ethical minefield,’ CBInsights noted.