Facebook recently patented a technology for placing its users in social classes based on the information it previously collected about them. The company originally filed to have its solution legally secured from theft in late July of 2016 but the United States Patent and Trademark Office published its application just earlier this week. The filing describes an algorithm that takes data such as user age, number of owned devices and real estate properties, level of education, and place of residence in order to make an accurate guess about their socioeconomic status, with one of the three possible results being the "middle class." The other two categories weren't specified but are likely to have been designed to accommodate people that are above and below what Facebook deems is the middle class. An example of a decision tree used by Facebook's algorithm can be seen in the gallery below.
The filing acknowledges users may not feel comfortable about sharing certain information like their annual income with the social network which could reduce the accuracy of its socioeconomic classification. The technology itself is described as being meant to serve Facebook's advertisers seeking more highly targeted digital tools than what they currently have available for reaching their intended demographics. It's presently unclear whether the Menlo Park, California-based social media giant intends to implement the solution into its advertising platform going forward.
Regardless of whether it ends up being commercialized, the patent is likely to attract additional public criticism to Facebook that's already been under fire for its marketing practices in recent times. The latest such controversies emerged over the course of 2017 when certain Facebook units were alleged to have helped advertisers target teens who feel "worthless" and people who publicly describe themselves as anti-semites and racists. The firm has also been repeatedly accused of manipulating individuals into getting addicted to its social media network so as to maximize its engagement rate and be able to serve more advertisements per user, consequently raising its profits. Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg indirectly reflected on those allegations as part of the company's consolidated financial report for the final quarter of 2017 by saying the tech giant has been in the process of trying to make its platform more beneficial to people's wellbeing and consciously reduced the average daily usage of its service by 50 million hours through a variety of changes, including a revamped News Feed.