Facebook Patent Determines Users’ Social Class

Facebook loves to know everything about you. The more of your data the company discovers, the more it can profit by targeting advertising at you. And some of your data that Facebook wants to show advertisers includes extremely personal info. For instance, Facebook filed a patent this week that can determine whether you are upper, middle or working class without even accessing your income.

The company’s patent for “Socioeconomic Group Classification Based on User Features” pulls from data points including your home ownership status, education, how many Internet-connected devices you own, how much you use the Internet, and more. And, most tellingly, Facebook says that the potential tool will be used by “third parties to increase awareness about products or services.” In other words, advertisers will be able to target you based on the amount of money Facebook thinks you make.

While this kind of service for advertisers isn’t illegal by itself, some experts argue that it clearly opens the door for illegal behavior.

“If people in poorer neighborhoods are disproportionately shown ads for predatory loans because an algorithm decided it has higher clickthrough — they have fewer chances for a fair loan treatment because they aren’t exposed to normal loan offers,” Google engineer Jeremy Kun wrote. “Is that direct or indirect? In either case, it’s illegal.”

No matter the murky legality of Facebook’s patent, one thing is perfectly clear: it’s creepy that the company is trying to pry into our finances.