In 2017, Facebook filed a patent that was not made public until this week, and the results are a little less than shocking. Once again, Facebook is under the spotlight of public scrutiny as it is revealed that the patent that they filed would allow the social media giant to probe members of a user’s household through information uploaded to the Facebook website and to Instagram. This would include everything from a user’s past posts, their status updates, friendships, messaging history, their tagged / tagging history, relationships and relationship history, photos (which includes not only photos uploaded by the user, by also includes photos that they are tagged in), and even their web browsing history.
Facebook told the L.A. Times that they would not comment on this issue, but did say that Facebook does at times apply for patents without the intention of actually using the technology. Some would argue that filing a patent that you do not intend to use is counterintuitive to the purpose of filing a patent, but Facebook wouldn’t be in the wrong for doing so. Patent law doesn’t really have a use requirement. In Continental Paper Bag Co. v. Eastern Paper Bag Co., 210 U.S. 405 (1908), the Supreme Court held that “an inventor receives from a patent the right to exclude others from its use for the time prescribed in the statute,” and this right is not dependent on the inventor using the device or affected by their nonuse thereof.
The Supreme Court linked their analysis of patent use to real property, where it recognized “the privilege of any owner of property to use or not use it, without question of motive.”
In other words, patent owners have no duty to actually use their patent.
As such, this patent filing could be a defensive act to prevent others from utilizing the technology, which would allow Facebook to maintain its competitive edge as an advertising platform, as the ability to determine who someone lives with could, in theory, help them better target ads toward their users.
As Facebook has been under fire a lot for leaking the personal data of millions of its users, as well as growing concerns over privacy and data collection issues, this seems like a bold move for Facebook to make regardless of whether they do or do not actually use the patent. Many sources have stated concerns over the face that Facebook collects large amounts of data not only from its users, but also from people who don’t even have a Facebook account, as well as how difficult it is to try to get Facebook to delete the data they’ve collected on you.
What are your thoughts on the matter? Do you think Facebook’s invasive data collection tactics have gone too far, or do you think it’s no big deal? Is it necessary to give up one’s privacy in order to use the internet?