Facebook knows your age, birthday, where you are, how you feel, your opinions on politics, and countless other details you've signed away in the website's user service agreement. And that's not all! The social media giant will soon be debuting a new feature that will mine a previously unknown personal detail from our lives: how affluent we are.
Facebook filed a patent in July 2016 for a new algorithm that predicts users' socioeconomic status using location, internet usage, what kind of phone you have, and other variables.
Here's how the program works, according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office:
An online system uses classifiers to predict the socioeconomic group of users of the online system.
The classifiers use models that are trained using features based on global information about a population of users such as demographic information, device ownership, internet usage, household data, and socioeconomic status.
The global information can be aggregated from market research questionnaires and provided to the online system.
The classifiers input information about a user and output a probability that the user belongs to a given socioeconomic group.
The input information is based on a user profile on the online system associated with the user as well as actions performed by the user on the online system.
Thus, the online system can predict the user's socioeconomic group without using the user's income information.
The online system can generate content for presentation to the user based on the predicted socioeconomic group.
What has people’s financial status got to do with Facebook?— Jonathan Connor 🙎🏻♂️ (@JonathanConnor1) February 25, 2018
One may wonder why Facebook would care about its users' financial situations. Though it's uncertain, the most obvious answer is that they would use it for the same purpose they use most other information: advertising. With a deeper knowledge of how much money any particular user has, advertisers will have a better idea of which products are the best potential sales.
While many are worried about the invasion of privacy, it's possible Facebook will never put their new algorithm into practice. After all, it was filed at the patent office in July 2016 and left untouched since then. The only reason the press has learned about the tool now is the release of a public document by the U.S. Patent Office.
Facebook commented to The Hill:
We often seek patents for technology we never implement, and patents should not be taken as an indication of future plans.
For the moment, Facebook is still in the dark about your personal finances. But with the wealth of other information they've already gathered, they probably already know more about us than we'd like them to.