Facebook may as well ask for our social security number at this stage, especially after they might one day be able to tell whether a user is rich or poor. In 2016, the popular social media site filed for a patent on a new system that would use an algorithm to determine a user's wealth, however, this was only publicized on February 1, 2018.
The algorithm would use a combination of answers that Facebook users give to certain questions and information gathered from "actions performed by the user" to split people into three separate groups regarding their socioeconomic status – working class, middle class, and upper class.
"[The] online system uses classifiers to predict the socioeconomic group of users of the online system," states the patent. "The classifiers use models that are trained using features based on global information about a population of users such as demographic information, device ownership, Internet usage, household data, and socio-economic status."
The social media giant will take a variety of information about its users into account in order to judge their financial status. This will include their travel history, how many Internet-connected devices they own, and their highest level of education. Those aged 20-30 will be asked about education and Internet devices, while users aged between 30 and 40 will be asked whether they own a house, and if so, what city it's in.
Using this kind of information allows Facebook to avoid directly asking its users how much they earn, something that might make people feel uncomfortable. The system may also be able to feed information from users' actions on other websites back to Facebook.
Facebook is often criticized due to its somewhat-invasive targeted advertising techniques, so the new patented algorithm is fairly unsurprising. Meanwhile, a patent doesn't mean that the technology will definitely be used anytime soon, if at all. What's more, the algorithm won't necessarily be completely accurate, it will simply estimate a person's wealth using a variety of information.
“We often seek patents for technology we never implement, and patents should not be taken as an indication of future plans,” a Facebook spokesperson told The Hill.