Facebook's New Patent Can Tell Who Users Live With

The social media giant would use users' photos, captions, and device information to predict who lives with who.
Shelby Rogers

If you've ever used #wifey, #kids, or #roomie, you could be telling Facebook all it needs to know about who lives in your house. Facebook submitted a patent application for tech that would predict a user's household based on the images, captions, and other personal information they have on the platform. 


The application was originally filed in May 2017, before any of the massive information scandals and security issues of this year. However, the patent called "Predicting household demographics based on image data" was made public recently. 

Facebook told Buzzfeed News, the publication that broke this story, that just because they filed the patent doesn't mean they're using the technology. "We often seek patents for technology we never implement, and patents should not be taken as an indication of future plans," a spokesperson told Buzzfeed

How the technology works

According to the patent, the technology would take into account the people in the photo, how frequently they appear in photos, and then any captions, tags, or terms associated with a family unit to predict what a household looks like. 

The patent also noted it would use the system to look at “messaging history, past tagging history, [and] web browsing history” to see if multiple users shared IP addresses. That would indicate people share internet networks. 

“Existing solutions of content delivery to a target household are not effective ... Without such knowledge of a user’s household features, most of the content items that are sent to the user are poorly tailored to the user and are likely ignored by the user," the patent noted. 

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While the company has yet to confirm this, Facebook does own Instagram -- the choice photo-sharing social media platform. The patent would also pull information from Instagram as it estimates a user's household. 

Facebook has every reason to invest in more accurate targeted ads. The company made $40 billion in revenue last year, and most of that came from digital advertisements. Those brought in $39.9 billion alone, according to Investopedia figures. 

Targeted advertising allows companies to access Facebook's data in custom demographic buckets. Facebook gives advertisers the choice to further customize those buckets depending on the company's branding and messaging goals. 

Thanks to Facebook's algorithms and extensive user terms, the social media platform can collect a lot of data from the billions of people who use it. Everything from the battery level on the device used to access Facebook to app and file names on the devices to the location of where you took a photo you later uploaded can be accessed by the social media company. 

Facebook in hot water

This patent comes on the heels of a frustrating week for Facebook. Earlier this week, the New York Times wrote an extensive look into Facebook's data policies. Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook responded with several posts claiming the newspaper misrepresented their intentions with user data. 

Facebook users are leaving by the millions, and it's not due to the political nature of people's feeds. For many, the Cambridge Analytica scandal played a role in their decision to leave the platform. Elon Musk even deleted his profile on the platform as well as company presences as the #DeleteFacebook hashtag trended on rival platform Twitter. 

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