While gazing around me in the library these past few weeks, predictably trying to procrastinate, I’ve noticed something that an increasing number of students are doing: covering their laptop cameras. The reason I probably noticed this on other people’s laptops is because this has been something I’ve been doing for a few months now. It would appear, however, that more people are now following suit.
The reason for this increased quest for privacy is likely to be as a result of a patent Facebook filed back in 2014. This patent would use technology to analyse your reactions and emotions to posts on your feed, through laptop or smartphone cameras. Facebook will then filter what is on your feed from your facial reactions, adding or removing certain things determined from your positive or negative responses. Though the patent was published in 2015, it was only spotted earlier this year. To me, this situation seems to mildly echo last year’s disturbing Black Mirror episode involving a webcam hacker, but with (I hope) a less sinister motive.
A spokesperson for Facebook stated, “we often seek patents for technology we never implement, and patents should not be taken as an indication of future plans”, though without sounding like a conspiracy theorist, it is unclear how wholeheartedly that statement should be believed. The way technology is advancing, it was inevitable that this patent would be sought after; it is easy to see that your Facebook is influenced by your browsing history, with adverts of things you were searching on another site popping up on the side of your Facebook feed. This patent appears to be the next step.
It is understandable, from a business point of view, to see why it is logical for Facebook to want to extract this data; it will enable your feed to be sculpted and made increasingly personal to each user, and consequently people are more likely to enjoy and continue using it. However, as a human who values their privacy (wholeheartedly more than a well sculpted Facebook profile) it is incredibly unsettling that your camera can be used to monitor your facial expressions without your knowledge that it was even switched on. My recent observation made clear to me that more and more people are becoming aware that they must reclaim their privacy, or at least take precautions. While technology’s invasion of privacy hasn’t quite reached the chilling stages reflected in Black Mirror, and Facebook isn’t believed to have put the patent in place yet, maybe it’s time to ask - does it seem completely out of reach?