How would you feel if you received a Facebook friend request from the stranger standing next to you on the subway platform? While this may sound like a creepy storyline from Black Mirror, Facebook’s new patent will have the ability to suggest friends to you based on who you’ve been standing near in real life.
The patent would use features already installed on your smartphone, such as Bluetooth or Near-Field Communication (NFC) to determine your location, others’ identities and other information meant to help connect you with people you meet in real life.
Facebook’s friend recommendation algorithm may be useful at times, but this new feature could be going a step too far. We all know that this isn’t the first time that Facebook has been accused of privacy invasion and intrusiveness. Facebook claims that the new feature is meant to help connect people who often forget to ask for contact information, the idea being they could head to Facebook to see who it was they were just connecting with.
Facebook’s “People You May Know” feature, a tool that connects you with the profiles of other users that Facebook thinks you may have a connection with, is similar to the new patent in that it pulls information based on people you may have connected with to suggest new friends. “People You May Know” mines information such as, your current friend list and their friends, your education info and your work info to make connections they may not want it to make. Opting out of the feature is not an option for users.
Facebook’s increasing influence over its acquired product, Instagram is also a concern for users looking to protect their privacy. Your Facebook activity influences content that appears in your Instagram feed, as well as suggested friends. Being friends with someone on Facebook is one of the key factors that the platform uses to determine your relationship with another user. According to Instagram, “sharing insights and information with Facebook helps connect you with others and build a better day-to-day experience for the Instagram community.”
This last week, I was shocked and a little disturbed to see my Chief Marketing Officer as a “suggested friend” on Instagram. Like most regular users, I use my Facebook and Instagram accounts to connect with friends and family. While I understand that in 2018 privacy is an illusion, I make an effort to keep my personal and business lives separate. It feels like Facebook makes protecting my privacy harder with each new patent.
While Facebook has not yet announced plans for the new patent, it’s likely we’ll see the effect of it sooner, rather than later. How do you think Facebook will use the patent in the near future? How do you think other users will respond to the patent? How do you privacy of your social media accounts?