Facebook patented some new tech that’s supposed to boost its People You May Know feature, and it’s super shady. While the tech sounds cool and handy, it actually comes with some terrifying implications for our privacy and safety. Read on for the full story.
Facebook’s New People You May Know Tech- Full Story
Facebook apparently filed a new patent on technology that allows it to use wireless communications to suggest friends in the “People You May Know” feature. In order to illustrate this particular technology, let me first show you what the patent had to say about it:
“Various embodiments of the present disclosure can indluce systems, methods, and non-transitory computer readable media configured to broadcast a first wireless communication including information associated with a first user. A second wireless communication including information associated with a second ser can be detected. Log data indlucing at least a portion of the information associated with a second user can be detcted. The log data can also include signal strength data associated with the second wireless communication and time data indicating when the second wireless communication was detected. The log data can be provided for analysis. One or more connections suggested for the first user based, at least in part, on the log data can be received.”
That was a mouthful.
Let’s break it down and see exactly what Facebook has in store for their People You May Know feature. The very first thing that we can notice is the method this tech will use to detect suggestions for their PYMK feature. According to the patent, Facebook won’t really be relying on location tracking. Instead, it’ll base its suggestions on wireless signals.
What’s going to Happen to the People You May Know Feature?
As you can see above, Facebook wants to use different types of communications to detect the people you’re usually in close proximity to. What kind of communications will Facebook use, you ask? Let me list them out for you:
- BLE Communications: Short for Bluetooth Low Energy communication. This refers to little packets of data which are broadcasted by Bluetooth enabled devices via radio waves.
- ZigBee Communications: Wireless communication protocol that uses low-powered digital radios to create personal area networks. This is mostly used with IoT.
- Z-Wave Communications: Same principle as ZigBee.
- RFID Communications: Radio frequency identification uses electromagnetic coupling in radio frequency to identify objects, animals, or people.
- NFC: a short-range high-frequency wireless communication tech that allows data to be exchanged between devices that are roughly 10 cm close to each other.
- PAN Communication: This one is a little…odd. It’s tech that allows wearable devices to communicate with nearby devices using the conductivity (of electricity) of a human body, thus creating a Personal Area Network.
So, as you can see, location services like GPS aren’t even a part of this new tech. Instead, Facebook can use different kinds of radio waves and frequencies to suggest possible friends to you.
How this Tech Will Work
The patent actually describes exactly how the feature will work. For the sake of this illustration, let’s call user one Jenny and user two Tom:
- Jenny goes to the grocery store and ends up on the same aisle as Tom. Jenny’s device lets out a wireless signal containing some information about Jenny.
- Tom’s device also lets out a wireless signal containing some information about Tom. Jenny’s device reads that signal.
- Jenny’s device creates a log of Tom’s signal. The log includes information like the signal’s strength (so, how far is Tom from Jenny) and the date and time of the connection.
- The logs head over to Facebook’s servers for analysis.
- Jenny opens Facebook at night and finds that Tom, the random stranger she passed by in the grocery store, is now part of her suggested Friends list.
Now, in this scenario, neither Jenny nor Tom need to have their GPS on for this to happen. They just need to have a device with the Facebook app on it.
What’s the Problem?
Oh my, where do I begin?
Let’s start with the security implications of this kind of technology. Had Facebook used GPS-based technology for their People You May Know Feature, you can, in theory, opt out of having your location tracked. This tech, however, uses communication protocols that you can’t really turn off. Seeing as Facebook doesn’t always make it easy for a user to opt out of one of their services, this kind of tech might end up being very dangerous for some people.
“But, Hiba, how harmful could this be? I mean you can easily not add the person to your friend’s list”
True, but that doesn’t mean that the person won’t have access to your information. Take a good look at your Facebook profile. How much personal information is on there? Your location, your full name, your friends, where you went to school, where you work…unless you’ve made your account completely private, a random stranger can end up knowing enough information about you to be a threat. Especially if that person isn’t a “good person”, per se.
The thing is, even if you have your profile completely private, your full name still shows. This kind of tech also allows the People You May Know list to bypass one of the privacy features that Facebook has on offer: limiting “Who Can Look You Up”.
So, yeah, bad agents can potentially use this tech to, more or less, invade your privacy completely. Honestly, I don’t even want to think of how much this would facilitate stocking and physically attacking another person. Since Facebook isn’t exactly known as the beacon of privacy and security-centered tech, I don’t fully trust them with keeping sensitive information private using tech like this.
Facebook’s New People You May Know Tech- Final Thoughts
This has not been a good year for Facebook when it comes to keeping their users’ privacy secure. In fact, Facebook has pretty much tanked on this particular front, so much so that the US Congress had to question Zuckerberg about Facebook’s privacy and security. The kind of technology proposed in Facebook’s new patent may very well seem like a good idea at the start. Since Facebook doesn’t really have a good record with privacy, I don’t think it’ll stay that way. Hopefully, Facebook’s trying to stop competitors from using this tech and isn’t actually planning on releasing it. I mean, a girl can dream, right?