Facebook has just been awarded a patent for technology that could let the social network scan through your photos, see what products you like, and then send that data to advertisers in the hopes of selling you more of the product. Specifically, the patent was awarded for “Computer-vision content detection for sponsored stories,” which can be used for “applying computer vision algorithms to user-uploaded multimedia objects to detect specific objects within the multimedia object, and promoting the uploaded multimedia object from a users’ news feed to a sponsored stories area.”
What that means is that if a Facebook user snaps a selfie sipping a unicorn frap at Starbucks and then shares that selfie on Facebook or Facebook-owned Instagram, Facebook’s newly patented technology can theoretically scan the photo and spot the Starbucks cup with the help of an “image object recognition algorithm.” Facebook can then sell that info to Starbucks, presumably alerting the coffee giant to the fact that you like its product, so it will buy ads on Facebook to sell you more Starbucks. That’s not all: Facebook could also boost the photo into your friends’ feeds as a sort of sponsored story.
Using an algorithm to scan photos of Facebook users to see what products or brands they like IRL removes that cumbersome step of convincing someone to like a brand’s page on Facebook or tagging the company in any of their posts. The patented tech lets it simply look at your picture, recognize the brand, and start selling advertising based on that.
In addition to Starbucks, another example included in the patent filing was Grey Goose vodka, showing that Facebook can automatically detect the vodka bottle in the photograph, figure out what brand of vodka you like, and coordinate with the brand to produce an online ad.
Per the patent, Facebook can also use the photos you post to track “other demographic information,” just in case Grey Goose wants to, say, figure out “the popularity of its vodka among females aged 27-35 living in urban areas.” Facebook can look through your photos and generate a “heat map” with adjustable filters so product owners may finely tune their query demographics.
As Amazon likes to remind me in all-caps emails, large tech companies frequently file for patents for ideas they have no plans to execute (like Amazon’s underwater lair and employee wristband tracking devices), so it’s worth mentioning that nothing may ever come from Facebook’s patent. At the same time, this does seem like a natural extension of Facebook’s mission to sell all your data to advertisers.
We’ve reached out to Facebook for comment.