Not entirely unlike dogs socializing via their nether regions, Facebook’s latest idea is to wirelessly sniff out people around you and make friend suggestions based on what it finds. Only it’s slightly more intrusive than how dogs do it.
The patent, which got the go-ahead last month, is like the current People You May Know feature sprouting legs and trotting up to random strangers who have the awesome good luck of finding themselves in your proximity.
Does Facebook need yet more technology for this? It’s not as if it’s not already adept – to put it lightly – at rummaging through our everything to find ties that bind.
Take, for example, the interview published by Fusion editor Kashmir Hill a few years ago: it was with a father who attended a gathering for suicidal teens. The father was shocked to discover that following the highly sensitive meeting one of the participants duly appeared in his People You May Know feed.
The only thing the two people seemed to have in common was that they’d been to the same meeting.
According to Hill:
The two parents hadn’t exchanged contact information (one way Facebook suggests friends is to look at your phone contacts). The only connection the two appeared to have was being in the same place at the same time, and thus their smartphones being in the same room.
Hill said that Facebook’s response gave her “reportorial whiplash”: first, it suggested that location data was used by People You May Know if it wasn’t the only thing that two users have in common, then said that it wasn’t used at all, and then finally admitted that it had been used in a test late in 2015 but was never rolled out to the general public.
Introduced in 2008, People You May Know has been both remarkably accurate and extremely opaque about how it makes friend suggestions. As in, “the networks that you are a part of, mutual friends, work and education information, contacts imported using the Friend Finder,” and the murky kitchen junk drawer of “many other factors.”
The feature is designed to help users discover new connections, be they long-forgotten school chums or colleagues. Of course, besides helping people to build out their own networks, it’s also darn handy when it comes to enabling Facebook to build a treasure trove of valuable data about us and the people with whom we associate.
That daisy-chaining analysis has enabled people like National Security Agency (NSA) agents to pull the communications of innocent people into far-reaching surveillance dragnets that snare friends of friends of actual targets, as was shown in leaked documents from Edward Snowden.
In 2016, Germany actually said no to all that, with the Federal Court of Justice ruling that Friend Finder constituted advertising harassment.
Patterns of movement
At any rate, to make its friend-suggesting, data-vacuuming technologies all the more data-grabby, the new patent describes a method of using the devices of Facebook app users to identify wireless signals – including Bluetooth, Z-Wave or Zigbee, NFC or PAN communications – from other users’ devices.
The patent says that the Facebook mobile app might be designed to make suggestions based on how physically close the new “friend” might be, plus how often the two people have met and how long the meetings have lasted. Or even, say, patterns of when users have likely had meetings. Imagine the possibilities: if you take the subway at a given time each day, for example, the guy who always sits across from you could pop up in your suggested friends list.
Outfitted with the technology described in the patent, the Facebook app could record not only how often devices are close to one another and meeting time and duration, but also their movement patterns. Relying on a device’s gyroscope and accelerometer to analyze movement patterns could, for example, help Facebook determine whether the two users went for a run together, strolled down the street together, or are habitually two sardines packed into that subway car together.
We’ll make them all blips on our radar, Facebook says:
In one embodiment, the movement pattern can include at least one of a stationary pattern, a walking pattern, a running pattern, or a vehicle-riding pattern.
In one embodiment, a graphical element representing the second user can be presented on a display element of the computing system. The graphical element can be moved on the display element based on a locational proximity between the computing system and a source of the second wireless communication. The locational proximity can be determined using the signal strength data associated with the second wireless communication.
Facebook’s algorithm would crunch all this data to figure out the likelihood of two users having actually met, even if they’re not Facebook friends already and have no other virtual connections. If that algorithm finds people’s patterns of “meeting” are “sufficiently significant,” they could receive nudges about possibly becoming friends.
This all would come in handy when you meet somebody at a cocktail party or convention, say, forget to ask for their contact information, and don’t apparently share mutual connections, Facebook suggests:
If, for example, the first user meets the second user but forgets to obtain the second user’s contact information and does not apparently share any mutual connections with the second user, it can be challenging or inefficient for the first user to search for and find the second user within the social networking service. These and other similar concerns can reduce the overall user experience associated with using social networking services.
You know who else might appreciate sniffing out people wirelessly? Cyberstalkers.
Oh, and police. This could be a good thing: a few years ago, a victim identified an armed robber after Facebook suggested him as a friend to his victim. Nothing like being held at knifepoint to get “proximity” bells ringing!
It could also be yet another investigative tool brought to law enforcement courtesy of Facebook, willingly or otherwise – the platform recently scolded police for using fake accounts to snoop on citizens.
It could be any or all of those things. For now, it’s just a patent. But given Facebook’s history with suggesting friends and what it’s already admitted about trialling such proximity-based technologies, it sounds like we’ll likely see it rolled out sooner, rather than later.
Time for somebody to invent a Faraday handbag!
20 comments on “Facebook wants to reveal your name to the weirdo standing next to you”
Seems like a lawsuit waiting to happen. Facebook shares info with complete stranger, stranger robs/kills/rapes that person and then Facebook gets sued for very large amount. Add in the politicians that are just waiting for another opening to jump on Facebook and regulate it and this seems like a really bad idea from a business standpoint.
This kind of thing makes me very glad that I have no need to access Facebook from my phone for the little I do need to use it.
> …stranger robs/kills/rapes that person and then Facebook gets sued…
Facebook has enough data to shuffle and exonerate themselves.
OneTwoThree NOT IT!
Sounds like “meet your stalker face-to-face”.
Faraday handbag? Well wouldn’t that also block the other radios of a phone?
Does this “feature” work with location turned off? Can’t see cell tower triangulation being precise enough .
Sometimes companies file patents defensively, to keep others from filing the same patent. Hopefully Facebook isn’t really going to try to match us up with our grocery store cashiers and the like.
they already have faraday handbags
I didn’t see any in a quick search. There are plenty of Faraday bags, but I don’t see purses!
Faraday hand bags, wallets, bags do exist. Facebook to drive this market with people looking to opt out, since you can’t count on FB to let people do that. Hmmmm, how fast can I build up a store and product line,,,,, Mahhn bags lol.
Anybody seen that Black Mirror Nosedive?!? Doesn’t it feel more and more like that everyday?
Yes. But I already felt like it was like that. When I saw it in 2015-16. Since it was an exact replication on how people behave online. But instead of it only being online. The online live had incorporated with real life.
Facebook just keeps getting worse. Or, probably more accurately, we’re just learning more about their already bad practices.
I HOPE that one can opt out of these things. (Never mind the almost vain hope that the opt out will actually work.)
I’ve already heard stories of people meeting up with others and then Facebook suggesting them as a friend – I don’t think this is new.
now I understand why I got a lot of friendship suggestions in facebook
time to delete facebook account…
our laziness is our vulnerability
Seriously who uses Fakebook?
Well, if you use a free service like Facebook, it seems to me that you have effectively given up the right to any privacy. Ever look at the App Permissions “required” for most “free” apps? I just took a look at the Drive Wise app that is offered by an major NA P & C Insurance company. Scary spyware.
Civil rights are inalienable, which means you have them because you exist, and nobody *can* simply ignore them. I know the US government is completely ignoring a huge amount of it’s own Bill of Rights (and have been since a bit before 9/11) but private corporations can’t hide behind legislation or use fear based propaganda in the way that governments can. If the NSA uses your phone to ‘listen in’ they get away with it, but when Facebook listen’s in (using speech to text) to market to you based on your conversations (they do it all the time. Talk about shoes & you get ads for shoes) they stand a much larger chance of getting in trouble for it. Especially since eventually, the winds of public acceptance always change, and then fear based propaganda always breaks drown & suddenly the people who took advantage of that earlier political climate wind up in front of a federal judge, explaining exactly why company management believes that the constitution does to apply to them.
FB has been disabled on my phone for a long time. To help friends and family, can anyone confirm signing out of the app would be enough to forestall this should it come to fruition?
Yes, I know about 2% (0.2%?) of users will care enough to actually do it.
I cannot count how many times total strangers at bus stops and in public places that you cannot avoid have creeped on people I know. I can’t even grasp how anyone on their right mind would think it would be okay to give such creeped data that identifies the people they are creeping on. I also know people who wish to keep their accounts private (for example teachers not wanting their students to know of their facebook accounts where they converse with their friends and family). That is asides from the fact that the new EU data protection requirements would have something to say about this as well. Who is coming up with these ideas and not able to think two steps ahead?
And Facebook filed a patent on this? That can’t possibly hold up in court. This has been done before. Besides the patent is far too general. You cannot patent simple concepts that are part of software. Software falls under copyright law, unless you invent something seriously unique. And as I said, this is not very unique. It sounds a lot like the “Nearby” mode in FIreChat.
My psychiatrist showed up in my People You May Know section. I am not sure he knew that. Needless to say I did not send him a friend request, and he did not send one to me either. I have no idea how this happened, except as suggested above I have been on his office!