A new patent filed by Facebook will make it easier for the social networking giant to analyse family photos and target ads based on them. Filed on May 10th and published on November 15, the patent is essentially an algorithm that can understand what’s there in the photographs — faces, pets, and other details and cross-reference them with available data to build a family profile of sorts. Once implemented, Facebook go from targeting individuals for ads to targeting entire households. Facebook already has a family targeting programme in place since last year where advertisers could target entire households at once.
The patent will allow Facebook to determine who belongs to the same household. The algorithm will skim through the relationships in people’s profiles, shared life events, check-ins, same last names, etc. to create the family profile. It’s a whole new level of data mining where the algorithm will not only see the photos, but also gather other information in people’s profiles. Apart from the profile details, the algorithm will look for IP addresses (users who are using the same address), tags and descriptions. Using this, Facebook may understand how many people belong in a household, what’s their lifestyle looks like, and other demographic information.
The patent gives an example of a male user who uploads multiple photos of two female subjects. They are present repeatedly in the pictures or posts people tag him in. One of them is a photo of a young girl with the caption, “my angel.” The algorithm can now understand that there are three people in the family, one male and two females and the two females are his wife and daughter.
While this may not be entirely accurate, the algorithm might allow advertisers to target users with such data even when the user didn’t explicitly mention the relationship with each other, or even if other members are not on Facebook at all.
Targeting audiences based on household size, members, interests, preferences, etc. has long been the ideal way of reaching out to customers. Facebook too, early this year, stated that the platform will do more to bring families together. The Portal home video chat device, which is basically a giant screen with a smart camera, is part of the mission. Facebook did mention that it may use data from the device to target ads.
For now, the patent covers only photos posted publicly by people, and not videos or the contents on private messages. Filing a patent also doesn’t mean Facebook will explicitly use the feature. A lot of companies have patents that are left unused for decades. So while Facebook can or may rely on your Diwali photos to target you with better smartphone deals, we can never be certain if Facebook is actually using the patent.