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New patents from Facebook could be used to predict where you’ll go next

Wonder when Zuck will patent ‘Minority Report’ style precogs… 🤔

Facebook profiles under a magnifying glass for facial recognition
Image: Pixabay

Facebook already tracks where you are, where you’ve been, and what you’re doing. The social giant even tracks you if you’ve never had an account. As time goes on, the company might also preemptively track your future movements, according to some new patents.

Thanks to a trio of patents reported by Buzzfeed News, we now know one possible future where Facebook’s tracking is all-pervading. Now, as with all patents, these are future speculation and might not make it into production. That said, this group of patents would be immensely useful for Facebook in its advertising business.

Based on how powerful the combination is, I just can’t see them not being implemented. Taken together, they show Facebook being able to predict where you will be; and even if you’ll be offline when you get there.

That’s pretty freaky to me and shows just how well big data can be manipulated to predict the future.

More about the patents

Offline Trajectories” was filed in May of 2017, and describes a way for Facebook to predict where you will go next. This method uses your location history, as well as the history of your friends, relatives, and strangers. It will also figure out the quality of the internet in that location; prefetching any data Facebook wants you to have instant access to in that location. It’s similar to how Google Maps can preload for offline use, but it’ll likely be used for store information like opening times, menus and of course, relevant advertising.

The second patent is titled “Location Prediction Using Wireless Signals on Online Social Networks” and was filed in November of 2017. This describes a system that uses all of the various signal-making hardware on a users device to pinpoint their location. That means Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, cellular signal strength and even NFC would be roped in to make location tracking more accurate than GPS.

With GPS having issues indoors, this would let Facebook know exactly which store or restaurant you’re in. Along with that data, the service would also log the time you were there, the opening times, and the popular times based on aggregate data. Then it would give ‘best guesses’ about where you would go next.

The last patent application reported on is “Predicting Locations and Movements of Users Based on Historical Locations for Users of an Online System.” This mouthful rounds out the advertising trifecta, serving targeted advertising. Users would be targeted based on movement history and could also differentiate between locals and visitors to a city.

Want to minimize the data Facebook collects?

Facebook’s app already tracks a crazy amount of user interactions and movements to “provide more relevant and personalized experiences.”

If you’re worried about how much data Facebook collects, here’s how to minimize it:

  1. Turn off location services for the mobile app. You could also go one step better – delete the app and use Facebook in your mobile browser instead. Don’t let Facebook add your location to posts and don’t use the Check-In functionality.
  2. If you’re an iPhone user, go to Settings > Privacy > Advertising and enable Limit Ad Tracking. Resetting your advertising identifier here will also delete all prior data associated with your advertising ID. Finish up by going to Settings > Privacy > Location Services and scrolling all the way down to System Services to disable Location-based Apple Ads.
  3. Android users only have one place to go, Settings > Google > Ads > and enable “Opt out of ads personalization.” You can also reset your advertising ID from here or from your Google account.

While this will not completely secure you from Facebook’s data collection, it will help minimize the impact. It’s not a perfect solution, but that requires you to actually delete Facebook altogether.

What do you think of the patents? Are they worrying? Let us know down below in the comments or carry the discussion over to our Twitter or Facebook.

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Maker, meme-r, and unabashed geek with nearly half a decade of blogging experience. If it runs on electricity (or even if it doesn't), Joe probably has one around his office somewhere. His hobbies include photography, animation, and hoarding Reddit gold.

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