Facebook has filed a patent for a system that would allow them to tailor user experience by analyzing users’ emotions. Using the front facing camera on a person’s laptop or smartphone, the platform would take temporary photos of the user to determine their emotional reaction to stories they see on on the social media site and adjust the content accordingly.
The social media platform would increase content that people respond positively to, and reduce the frequency of content they respond negatively to. Even though there is already technology in place to curate a user’s news feed by taking note of what pages are unfollowed and other factors, the new system would assist in automating the process.
A spokesperson for Facebook explained to the Independent that filing a patent doesn’t necessarily mean the technology will be rolled out. "We often seek patents for technology we never implement, and patents should not be taken as an indication of future plans," they said.
Though innovative, using "passive imaging data" places Facebook in a kind of public relations and ethics grey area. The company has already faced criticism for targeting ads to teenage users based on their comments and for producing ads for certain medical conditions allegedly using users’ search histories.
It was also revealed in 2014 that the site conducted an experiment to see if it could manipulate users’ emotions by adjusting the feed of 700,000 users, later admitting that Facebook "failed to communicate clearly why and how we did it."
It’s hard to see the public reacting favorably to having their photos taken without their permission.
There has been some speculation about whether Facebook could face legal action because of the technology, but legal experts say the company’s established user regulations may prevent this.
University of Maryland law professor James Grimmelmann told the International Business Times, "I think it would be very difficult for someone to successfully sue Facebook over this … Some class-action lawyers may try in the hopes of negotiating a cash settlement, but the obstacle is the terms of service. Facebook’s terms of service say they can use data for research, and they don’t make any promises about giving you an unbiased news feed."
In its Data Use Policy, Facebook reserves the right to use data for "for internal operations, including troubleshooting, data analysis, testing, research and service improvement."