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Facebook, Patents, and Privacy: Social Media Innovations to Mine Personal Data

[©2016. Published in GPSOLO, Vol. 37, No. 5, September/October 2020, by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association or the copyright holder]

* Updated November 25 to include references to CPRA/ Prop24.

The episode “Nosedive” of the television series Black Mirror envisions a society built on social credit scores. In this dystopia, all social media networks have converged into one platform—think Facebook, TikTok, Yelp, and Equifax combined.

This umbrella social platform allows users to rate each other on a five-point scale after each social interaction. Those with a high score gain access to job opportunities, favorable zip codes, and even high-status relationships. Those with a low score have the social ladder kicked out from under them, leading to a downward cycle of estrangement—and in the case of Black Mirror’s protagonist, jail time.

While the society in “Nosedive” seems far-fetched, is the technology behind it plausible?

Facebook Patents That Impact Privacy

According to Facebook’s patents, the answer is a resounding “yes.”

In a series of filings spanning almost a decade, Facebook has obtained several patents that allow social media platforms to track, identify, and classify individuals in new and innovative ways. Below are just few.

Tracking individuals via dust. U.S. Patent No. 9485423B2, “associating cameras with users and objects in a social networking system” (filed September 16, 2010, patented June 25, 2013), allows social media networks to identify an individual’s friends and relationships by correlating users across the same camera. To do so, an algorithm analyzes the metadata of a photo to find a camera’s “signature.”

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Searching for the One Ring to Rule Them All: A Look at 8 U.S. Federal Privacy Bills

Image Credit: 3D Animation Production Company from Pixabay

This article is Part 1 of 2 in a series exploring proposed federal privacy laws in the United States. Part 2 will discuss the constitutional challenges facing not only a proposed federal privacy law but those facing existing state privacy laws as well.

As predicted in our Privacy Law Forecast for 2019, legislators have raced to introduce national privacy regulation in both the House and Senate this year.

In contrast to the European Union’s GDPR, a hodgepodge of sectoral laws govern privacy in specific industries: medical, financial, educational, and marketing sectors, among others. States have enacted laws to protect their residents. And on top of that, Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act (15 U.S.C. § 45) grants authority to the FTC to enforce against unfair and deceptive acts and practices.

This all results in a confusing and burdensome “patchwork” of national, state and sectoral rules. (For more in-depth discussion on the current U.S. privacy regulatory landscape, please see American Privacy Laws in a Global Context.)

Given this regulatory environment, legislators are keen to put forth a single federal privacy law to standardize this “patchwork” and forestall the passage of dozens more state privacy bills. Some have set a deadline, hoping to pass a federal privacy law before the CCPA comes into effect on January 1, 2020. Since the start of 2019, lawmakers have introduced about 230 bills that regulate privacy in some way in either the House or Senate.

The following is a sample of comprehensive bills from both sides of the aisle. Though these bills are unlikely to pass committee, they indicate what policies lawmakers are considering in the current negotiations:

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Pole with sign saying "future".

Privacy Law Forecast for 2019

Image Credit: ID 23689850 © Steve Ball | Dreamstime.com

This past year was quite a whirlwind for privacy and cybersecurity watchers. Just to sum up a few of the top events of last year:

  • Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal rocked political headlines
  • Europe introduced the GDPR, the most comprehensive data protection legislation to date in the world
  • California enacted the California Consumer Privacy Act, becoming the first US state to create GDPR-style rules
  • Google came under fire for allowing app developers to read your email, and track your location (even with location tracking off!)
  • Marriott’s guest reservation system was hacked, exposing the personal information of up to 500 million guests, including passport numbers and payment numbers for some of those hacked

What will happen in 2019? Here are our top 5 predictions:

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