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Facebook filed a patent for technology that uses photos to predict who you live with

Facebook has filed a patent in hopes of studying photos posted online.
Facebook has filed a patent in hopes of studying photos posted online. Getty Images

Facebook wants a patent for technology that studies your family photos in hopes of getting more clues into who you live with.

The social media giant filed a patent for an algorithm that would analyze family photos, then use the information for ad targeting. The patent was filed in May 2017, but was made public this week.

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The document, titled “Predicting household demographics based on image data,” explains that the technology would predict a number of things, including the size of a household and the demographic.

It would use photos posted to the website, along with the text attached to them (captions and hashtags) to suggest how people within the photos might be related.

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“The online system uses the predictions to build more information about the user and his/her household in the online system, and provide improved and targeted content delivery to the user and the user’s household,” the patent reads.

The system would also analyze things such as message history, previous tags and browsing history to see whether people share the same IP address.

So, it would work in two parts: a “trained image model” for studying photos and human faces, plus a “trained text model” that would analyze tags, profile data and online connections.

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Will it actually be used?

If patented, the legal document says the technology could be used on Facebook and Instagram.

But in a statement to Global News, Facebook cautioned against assuming this will eventually happen.

“We often seek patents for technology we never implement, and patents should not be taken as an indication of future plans,” the statement read.

Facebook notes it files hundreds of patents each year and many never materialize into actual algorithms used on its platforms.

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Facebook already tracks households

That doesn’t mean Facebook doesn’t track who is in your family, though.

Facebook already allows businesses to target their ads to entire households at once. It determines those who share a household through things like last names, check-in, life events and more.

On its website, Facebook explains that marketers can create a “household audience,” basically sending out the ad to everyone who lives in the same home.

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“This feature enables marketers to deliver relevant marketing to family members in the same household, who can influence purchase decisions of products and services.”

The ad feature also lets businesses collect data on how many households they reach. It’s a feature users can opt out of by visiting the ads preferences page, and unselecting “member of a family-based household.”

It’s a tool companies such as Netflix and Airbnb have expressed interest in.