Facebook already knows a lot about you, but now it wants to know about the people you meet in real life, too. The social media giant was granted a patent last month for technology that would allow it to discover when you’ve shared a physical space with another Facebook user — even if you have no clue who they are.
The new patent would let Facebook identify wireless signals from users’ devices, then use those signals to measure exactly how far two users are from one another and for how long. It’s possible that Facebook could even use your phone’s gyroscope and accelerometer to measure your exact movements. That all adds up to Facebook being able to establish your daily patterns and learn who is your significant other, friend, co-worker and much more.
Of course, all of this is in service of connecting users and promoting greater engagement with the platform. But, as some experts have pointed out, Facebook’s step into the real world may prove to be a bridge too far for many users.
“Privacy is a highly contextual concept for many people,” Amie Stepanovich, policy manager for the digital advocacy nonprofit Access Now, told WIRED. “By linking social media with real life interactions, Facebook could blur those lines in a way which isn’t only creepy but potentially dangerous. The ability to move through public life with a degree of anonymity is an important safeguard, and this feature threatens to greatly degrade that ability.”
It’s important to remember that this is just a patent for now, and may never come to fruition. However, the mere fact that Facebook is seriously exploring this technology is unsettling.