Facebook thinks it can predict where users will go next and has filed patent applications with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for the technology.
According to a report in BuzzFeed citing patent applications filed by Facebook, in one application the company explains how it relies on location data and technology to predict the next place a user will be going and when he or she will get off the internet. In the patent application, Facebook lays out technology that could analyze the data of people in a user’s Facebook network and strangers to predict where a user will go next, called “Offline Trajectories” in the patent application. According to BuzzFeed, Facebook argues that if it can predict when a person is about to be in an area where he or she can't access the internet, the content on Facebook could be enhanced so a user can access it even when there is no connectivity to the internet. If Facebook predicts a person will be offline soon, it can preload News Feed with content, noted the report. BuzzFeed noted that in 2016 Google faced backlash for including a similar feature in Google Maps called Driving Mode. It predicted where a user was going using location data and web search history. Google was forced to backpedal, saying Drive Mode only predicted preprogrammed destinations while other locations are shown merely as suggestions, noted BuzzFeed.
In addition to using location data, Facebook filed a patent application titled “Location Prediction Using Wireless Signals on Online Social Networks” which BuzzFeed says pertains to tracking the strength of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, cellular and near field communications signals to determine the location or a user and predict where he or she may go next. Facebook, using the technology, would be able to learn the current location of the user, the time he or she entered the location, the hours the place is open and when its busy time is.
Facebook spokesman Anthony Harrison told BuzzFeed the social media giant often seeks patents for technology it never uses. “Patent applications — such as this one — should not be taken as an indication of future plans,” he said. BuzzFeed pointed out that while the filing of a patent application doesn’t mean a new feature will come of it, it does underscore how Facebook is interested in tracking users and predicting their next location, which can be powerful for advertisers and thus make Facebook more money.