Facebook has plans to utilise the webcams, phone cameras and other methods in order to change the way they deliver content, and enable users to communicate in more emotive ways.
Three patents, the most recent one granted towards the end of May, detail how Facebook would like to collect more data from users in order to personalise the services they provide further.
David Vaile, the Chair of the Australia Privacy Foundation, believes this development creates dangers for users.
“They have already got the big data tools… it’s not as if they are starting from scratch…this is another deep insight into what people are doing”.
“One aspect of this is about the potential harm that they could unwittingly do, they deeply don’t care about people, they care about selling clicks to their advertisers”
Mr Vaile raised the issue of informed consent, saying most users will not realise exactly how much information Facebook will be taking and monitoring.
“Realising that they are actually tracking your emotions by checking how you are typing… I don’t think people would know about that,” he said.
“This is something that hasn’t existed in the past… so I don’t think most people understand it”
“So I don’t think they have given informed consent because you can only give informed consent if you know what you are talking about, if you know what is at stake.”
He also criticised a previous experiment, where he claims Facebook manipulated the content of newsfeeds to see how they could emotionally manipulate users.
“They deliberately tried to manipulate the emotional tone, the level of happiness or sadness… of about close to a million users” he said.
“Their capacity to up-modulate and down-modulate people’s emotional tone on command, I thought pretty spooky”.
“Potentially their capacity to manipulate your response to things might turn into political manipulation as well.”
The most recent patent would use data including how hard keys are pressed on the touchpad, typing speed, movement, location and more to adjust text messages to enable communicating emotion more clearly.
Facebook would then change formatting, such as font, size spacing and other tools in order to convey the emotion.
A second patent would use images of users captured through webcam and smartphone cameras in order to track their engagement and interest in what is being displayed.
The patent proposes using “passive imaging data”, which is image captured even when the cameras are not turned on and being actively used.
They would use this data to show more content that the user seems to be engaging with.
The third patent proposes a technology that would use camera data to allow for more streamlined sending of emojis in messages.