In its latest dystopian innovation, Facebook has decided it would like to surreptitiously spy on people through their cameras, employing contentious facial recognition technology to analyze their emotions — in essence, this amounts to reading a person’s mind.
A recently-resurfaced patent filed by Facebook previously evinces the social media platform’s remarkably Orwellian goal of reading users’ emotions upon encountering various content — information which would then be used to tailor material for relevance to a person’s mood.
Flatly called “Techniques for emotion detection and content delivery,” the patent — filed in November 2015 and rediscovered by New York-based marketing intelligence firm, CB Insights, upon its granting on May 25, 2017 — “would automatically add emotional information to text messages, predicting the user’s emotion based on methods of keyboard input.
“The visual format of the text message would adapt in real time based on the user’s predicted emotion. As the patent notes (and as many people have likely experienced), it can be hard to convey mood and intended meaning in a text-only message; this system would aim to reduce misunderstandings.
“The system could pick up data from the keyboard, mouse, touch pad, touch screen, or other input devices, and the patent mentions predicting emotion based on relative typing speed, how hard the keys are pressed, movement (using the phone’s accelerometer), location, and other factors.”
It seems the goliath social media platform’s goal — at least superficially — is to keep users interested enough to make visits to the site longer in duration.
But the creepiness factor — and the tacit removal of user’s ability to choose which content they’d like to see — makes Facebook’s patent a dangerous foray into further control, beyond even the already infuriating algorithms about which users have complained for years.
The Independent reports:
“If you smiled as you looked at pictures of one of your friends, for instance, Facebook’s algorithm would take note of that and display more pictures of that friend in your News Feed.
“Another example included in the patent application explains that if you looked away from your screen when a video of a kitten played, Facebook would stop showing similar type of videos in your Feed.
“In another case, the document says that if you happened to watch an advert for scotch, Facebook could choose to target you with more adverts for scotch.”
A second patent, called “Systems and methods for dynamically generating emojis based on image analysis of facial features,” indicates the possibility emojis could be conjured to fit a user’s mood — and Facebook refused to confirm to the Daily Mail whether or not it would be employed.
CB Insights additionally notes,
“The patent mentions several additional features, such as the ability to modify the emoji based on more detailed analysis of the user’s face, and the ability to capture gestures made by the user and add those to the emoji […]
“By reducing users’ facial expressions to emojis from a pre-set list, Facebook could potentially analyze users’ emotions more easily.
“Facebook could gain clearer insight into feelings and reactions, while also adding a new interactive feature.”
It appears Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg didn’t learn any conceivable lesson in previous flirtations with manipulating users’ emotions.
In 2014, millions of users were jolted to learn Facebook had performed a secret social engineering experiment by deftly crafting information posted to 689,000 profiles — filtering posts, videos, comments, images, and links — to make people feel more positively or negatively through a process known as “emotional contagion.”
“Emotions expressed by friends, via online social networks, influence our own moods, constituting, to our knowledge, the first experimental evidence for massive-scale emotional contagion via social networks,” the joint Cornell University and University of California study, conducted unbeknownst to users and without their permission, found.
Ensuing contention excoriated the world’s largest social media platform, and Facebook was later forced to capitulate, stating it “failed to communicate clearly why and how we did it.”
Privacy advocates, activists, and attorneys were appalled at the mass, secretive intrusion, and — mostly due to the covert nature of the experiment — rumors occasionally circulate that other such analyses are still being conducted.
However fundamentally invasive the rediscovered patent might sound in the context of the prior PR nightmare, a Facebook spokesperson cited by the Independent insisted:
“We often seek patents for technology we never implement, and patents should not be taken as an indication of future plans.”
Of course, Facebook users around the world didn’t find comfort in a picture which surfaced last year of Zuckerberg with his web camera taped over — a detail which could now only kindle suspicions the patent technology might already be the subject of a test run.
Whistleblower Edward Snowden’s ominous warning to everyone to cover the cameras and microphones on all devices seems all the more prescient.
By Claire Bernish, Guest author / Images: CB Insights