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Security & privacy

Facebook wants to predict where you’re going

It’s no secret that companies like Google and Facebook want to track your every move. Their main goal, of course, is to serve you better-suited targeted ads.

From your browsing data to your shopping habits, to the people you communicate with the most, the tech giants want to gather as much data as they can and they’re developing more technologies endlessly to make the process more effective and efficient.

In fact, Facebook already has ideas in place that can deliver ads in ways that will surely surprise you. Read on and see what creepy patent applications Facebook has under its sleeves.

New Facebook patent applications

Buzzfeed News spotted a rather curious Facebook patent application called “Offline Trajectories.” The patent describes a technology that can predict where you’re headed next based on your location data. It will also use your friends’ location data, as well as that of people you don’t know, to make its predictions.

Why? So Facebook can gauge if you’re headed to an area with weak data connectivity and it will preload your content like your News Feed and your ad content ahead of time.

For example, if your daily routine includes a trip to the gym after leaving your workplace, Facebook is planning on learning that behavior so it can preload your content every day if it detects that your gym has a spotty data coverage.

Another patent application is called “Location Prediction Using Wireless Signals on Online Social Networks.” This technology describes how Facebook can use the strength of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, cellular and Near Field Communication (NFC) signals to determine your precise location so it can predict where you’re headed next.

Aside from your precise location, this method can also learn the time of your visit to an establishment, the hours the establishment is open and the most popular hours of the establishment.

And lastly, these technologies will likely work hand in hand with another Facebook patent application called “Predicting Locations and Movements of Users Based on Historical Locations for Users of an Online System.” This describes a method where location data from multiple people will be used to predict location and movement trends.

Taken together, this means that if Facebook gathers that people typically go to a coffee shop after watching a movie, for example, it will predict that you’ll likewise be going to a coffee shop after a visit to the movie theater.

Location data is big money

Location data is valuable because it shows where you actually go, what establishments you patronize, what stores you buy from, etc. Combined with other data, like your browsing activity, entertainment tastes and shopping habits, these tech companies are hoping that they can serve you relevant targeted ads that you’ll actually like.

It’s a virtual arms race as the big tech firms try and develop a more effective targeted ad method to present to marketers and advertisers.

Now, all these proposed technologies may or may not be in Facebook’s pipeline. As Facebook spokesperson Anthony Harrison told Buzzfeed, “We often seek patents for technology we never implement, and patent applications — such as this one — should not be taken as an indication of future plans.”

However, it’s a clear indication that the tech giants want more predictive behavioral tools on their arsenal, on top of the enormous amount of information they already have about us.

Other creepy Facebook patent applications

Aside from its location tracking patents, here are other creepy Facebook patent applications we’ve seen this year:

  • Predicting when you are likely to die – This Facebook patent application details how the company can use your posts, messages and even your location and credit card transactions to predict when major life events such as a birth, graduation and yes, death, are likely to occur.
  • Identifying your camera – Now this is quite inventive. This patent application considers analyzing your pictures to create your gadget’s unique camera “signature.” This involves analyzing a picture’s evidence of faulty pixels or lens scratches to identify individual cameras.
  • Using your phone’s mic to monitor your environment – With all the talk about always-listening gadgets, this patent application won’t help Facebook’s case at all. According to the application, Facebook is exploring ways to use your phone’s microphone to identify TV shows and whether ads were muted. It also apparently proposes a bit of tech magic by using your TV power cable’s electrical interference patterns to guess which shows are playing.
  • Judging your personality – With shades of Cambridge Analytica, this patent application proposes a way to judge your personality traits like extroversion, openness or emotional stability by using your posts and messages. This finding will then be used for targeted ads and news stories.
  • Establishing routine – This patent application may have its uses but it’s creepy none the less. This application proposes a form of weekly routine tracking and whenever a deviation from the norm is detected, it will send a notification to other users. This application also describes a way of using your phone’s nightly location to determine where you live.
  • Using location to track down your sleeping habits (and your social life) – This patent application proposes a comparison of your phone’s location with the locations of your friends’ phones to determine who you socialize with the most. Interestingly, it will also monitor when your phone is stationary to track how many hours you sleep.
  • Snooping on your romances – This application describes a way of predicting whether you’re in a romantic relationship by tracking how many times you visit another user’s page, the number of people in your profile picture and the percentage of your friends of a different gender.

How to prevent Facebook from tracking your location

If you don’t like the idea of Facebook snooping around where you’ve been, you can either delete your Facebook account for good or take a break by deactivating it.

However, if you want to keep using your Facebook account since it’s still your main way to keep in touch with your friends, you can turn off the Facebook’s location tracking features by following these steps:

iOS:

  1. Tap on your Settings icon
  2. Scroll down until you find the Facebook app then tap it
  3. Tap Location
  4. Set it to “Never”

Android:

  1. On Android, go to Settings
  2. Tap Apps >> Look for Facebook
  3. Tap Permissions
  4. Here you’ll see all the permissions that the app has (Camera, Contacts, Location, Microphone, Storage, etc.). To revoke a permission, just toggle its switch to off.

If you want to completely stop from tracking your location from your phone, you can delete its mobile app and stick with its web browser version. Avoid checking into places and adding locations to your photos and posts to limit your location data even further.

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