Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Facebook’s patents show a commitment to collecting personal information (nytimes.com)
539 points by bogomipz 11 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 166 comments



It's crazy how the large companies file so many patents for any idea their employees can think of. We used to have a lawyer come to our desks once a month and they would try patent any idea you could come up with even off the top of your head. Not sure how small companies can compete when larger companies can buy up all the IP in a space without having to do any work. The smaller companies I've worked for have to be very selective about what they spend time and money patenting.


As someone who has multiple issued patents from large companies.. It's a pretty complex issue. I personally think software patents should be outlawed, as I don't know a better solution.

On the one hand, I have several patents for project(s) that took years to develop. The processes are unique, very difficult to replicate, and should be offered some protection (if we agree that motor designs should be protected). The companies I have worked for would defend the IP and would constitute these as "offensive" patents, because they would use it to actively stop upstarts.

On the other hand, I also have worked with lawyers to just patent ideas I had off hand. These are "defensive" patents, and go into the patent arsenal, containing hundreds to thousands of patents, to be used if someone decides to sue. These are just "ideas" and often will only have the most basic design(s) and testing (if at all).

Unfortunately, it's impossible to tell the difference, and more over - I don't think it's fair (personally) to patent something that doesn't exist in reality yet.

What's even more frightening to me personally, is that I am morally opposed to patenting... However, when someone offers me $1k, $3k, $5k, etc. to work with them to file a patent I'm incentivized to file. I have to be pragmatic for my family.

For reference, I'm on or currently working through filing close to 150 patents.

For each one, I donate a portion to the EFF; for what it's worth...


I’m becoming more of the opinion that all intellectual property law is immoral on the grounds that it creates artificial barriers to prosperity for individuals who don’t receive the benefits of the patents. I work hard on personal projects (robots) that I think would be useful to others and I share them all CC0 or BSD licensed. I think it would be useful for economists to consider the way patents exacerbate inequality.

That said, my employer has filed a patent for some work I did for them, and it’s a tough issue for me. In this case, I don’t think the innovation is so world changing that I need to fight for it to be open, nor do I think they would honor my desire to leave it unpatented as I’m not really in a position to ask for that.

But it’s an issue I feel uncomfortable with, and I kind of dream of moving to a different place where my employer doesn’t try to patent my work.

It is tough when they offer you a few thousand for these ideas you come up with. That money could help me build a family, but in closing off these ideas I’m making it harder for everyone else to prosper.

FWIW, if anyone says “patents encourage innovation” I would ask you for citations. I understand this is the story we’re told, but it’s typically presented with simple anecdotal evidence and hunches. I’ve never seen a thorough study of the issue.


>intellectual property law is immoral on the grounds that it creates artificial barriers to prosperity for individuals who don’t receive the benefits of the patents

It is also a wealth transfer from the poor to the wealthy: the justice system protecting IP capital is financed by taxpayers, the hard majority of which hold no patents.


I do think the time is long overdue for IPR "property tax" as an anti-squatting measure and a defence against increasingly long copyright terms.

Disney making billions off Mickey Mouse? They can pay a tiny fraction of that and they can have their extension.

Novel by obscure dead author? Don't extend the copyright unless the estate wants to pay for it.

Abandoned and nobody to pay the tax? Enters the public domain.

All those defensive spurious patents? They impose a search cost on every single other innovator. There should be a carrying cost for the defensive patent wall.


I think that's a great idea. The value of an IP could be self-assessed, with the caveat that any party has an option to purchase the IP for e.g. 125% of the self-assessed value.

The tax on this value could scale from 1% for year 10 onwards, increasing by 0.25% per year. Year 50 of your copyright? Be prepared to pay 11% APR rent on its value.


Consider that the majority of federal tax revenues are generated by top income earners. It’s more of a wealth transfer between different groups of the wealthy.

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/10/06/a-closer-loo...


Patents take money from the poor by denying them the prosperity at low-cost that would happen if there were no patents.

Patents are government-enforced monopolies. They enable all of what anyone would expect with monopolies, namely high prices for consumers.


Reasonably time limited patents are a necessary component of incentivizing innovation, without which consumers would not realize new goods and services based off of those innovations.


There was plenty of innovation before patents. The purpose of patents was never to incentivize innovation. The purpose was to incentivize disclosure, to allow the progress of society by revealing trade secrets (in exchange for which they would be protected from competitors for a time).

If you've ever tried to read a patent, you'll know this system has failed. In almost no cases can you meaningfully replicate an invention from a patent. Quite apart from which, a huge number of things under patent protection today are public knowledge anyway, or can be considered 'obvious'.


>Reasonably time limited patents are a necessary component of incentivizing innovation

Ive never been satisfied with this necessity; its not like innovation would just seize without patents: innovation in processes is still incentivized, because falling behind would mean higher prices than competition, and lost market share, so you still need to r&d to at least match the competition, let alone best it. Innovation in consumer products is still incentivized, by first movers effect, though perhaps the easiest copied things are lost (ie plastic lids might be too easy to copy design updates). Innovation in software obviously wont stop, and shenzhen succeeds in electronics with lax (absent?) patent/copyright law.

The primary innovation patents might be necessary for is a small company taking on a larger one, and needing to protect its design while it gets itself going.... but in practice, it proposed hinders innovation there more than it helps.

Patents, I think, are about essentially open-sourcing the design of things, and the incentive to do so is a temporary, gov-enforced monopoly. If theres any idea about innovation, its in the long-term, as 5,10,20 years from now, we can read up on these ideas and build on top of them, instead of seeing them lost in time with the company's demise.


One argument is that small companies can't out-compete big companies in efficiency due to lack of resources, therefore patents give them the necessary time to bring their products to market.

However I never found that argument to be believable. Big companies have such a vast patents portfolio that it's impossible for small companies that try to create a product to not infringe on anything. So what happens many times in practice are actually cross-licensing deals.

Therefore small companies developing some innovative algorithm or technology are better off keeping it a trade secret until launch.


I am as against patents as anybody else, but I wish that people talk more about the original idea behind it: if next-door wealthy guy can copy everything you invent, then there is few incentive if any to create anything new.


That argument has always felt like it came out of economics 101. Maybe in a world where everyone is a rational economic actor motivated only by maximizing profits, people wouldn't make anything new without a patent.

In the real world, open source and open research communities have no shortage of innovation, even without being able to place artificial blocks on the competition. It turns out, creator's motivations are more complicated than making money alone.

In my opinion, innovation might move a bit slower without the money injections from VCs who can be confident they can get patents and a safe ROI, but I think we'd be better off in the long run if we allowed creators to build off past ideas without the fear of being sued.


Even with rational actors, it doesn't really hold. You still have to innovate, because if you go stagnant and the competition does innovate, you're fucked. At the very least, you have to be capable of constantly updating your copies to match the competition, and you'd at best reach parity (unless the cost of original r&d was enormous, and time/cost to copy was minimal), which won't maximize profit.


That was never the purpose. See my comment above.


Especially as filing a patent costs several hundred dollars. If you have an idea but not much money, you can't afford to patent it (or might have to make the choice between buying a patent or marketing your invention).


> It is tough when they offer you a few thousand for these ideas you come up with. That money could help me build a family, but in closing off these ideas I’m making it harder for everyone else to prosper.

I don't disagree. I look at it as a way for me to profit, I have to be pragmatic, unfortunately. I do donate 25% of each bonus to the EFF and personally I look at it another way...

This problem is going to get worse before it gets better. If I don't do this someone else will. The powers that be want this, and the lower levels like myself live on a bounty. It'll eventually fix itself, but until then I can net enough money to pay off my student loans, my cars, my house.


> The processes are unique, very difficult to replicate, and should be offered some protection (if we agree that motor designs should be protected).

Just to clarify the discussion. Patents do not exist for protection of innovations or to guarantee income for innovators. Patents exists so that the society would get more innovations. And that is the only measure that patents should be judged against: Do we generally get so much more innovations (within motor designs kn this case) with the patent scheme that the welfare loss caused by monopolizing the IP is covered?

Interestingly enough, it is widely agreed that monopolies are bad, so one could imagine that the proof pf burden here would be on the ones who support monopolization of IP. And I have seen very little proof of benefits of patents that do not reduce to assuming that patents are benficial as per the measure I described above.


Has the idea of a patent tax ever been explored?

Basically, increasing the cost of filing patents incrementally to regulate excessive patenting and encourage companies to be more selective.


I have thought of a scheme where the first couple of years of IP are free and after that heavily progressively taxed over time ( e.g 1000 usd on third year and doubling each year after that. Once the ip holder does not pay the tax, IP becomes automatically public domain.

Unfortunately Berne convention has been written in a way that basically does not allow any kind of taxation of IP in arts and literary works. Which, of course, is amazing, mindboggling power grab by IP industry, done already in 18th century.


Art and literature and patents are a fundamentally different law construct with different background and purpose.

Generalizing patents and copyright as IP is a fallacy and leads to wrong conclusions.

I recommend reading this article by Richard Stallmann on this topic https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/not-ipr.html


> I have thought of a scheme where the first couple of years of IP are free and after that heavily progressively taxed over time ( e.g 1000 usd on third year and doubling each year after that. Once the ip holder does not pay the tax, IP becomes automatically public domain.

It's not free at the beginning, and the fees are less than you suggest, but that's mostly what we do have: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maintenance_fee_(patent)


I think this thread drastically underestimates the impact of removing incentive to protect their intellectual property. People will simply file their IP in the EU, China, and elsewhere internationally, ultimately deterring people from operating in the US market entirely.


hmm...then wouldn't the companies just create spin-off companies which they own. Or instead just submit the patent in the name of the employee who invented it, but have a contract with the employee to license the patent to the company.


Unless your job is actually filing patents, I'm sure you'd still live a relatively comfortable life without filing them. You must not be that opposed to patents if you are willing to go against your own beliefs for some small bonuses.


> For each one, I donate a portion to the EFF; for what it's worth...

What a great idea. Thanks


If your name is on a patent, can you use it anytime? Like if you change jobs?


Typically no, because employees 'sell' their rights to the patent to their employer when filing the patent application. It is customary for the employees to get a silver dollar as a token that has monetary value (hence the sale) and we can thank Richard Feynman for forcing there to be an actual transfer of money :)

I should also add that usually the inventor can't take the patent to their next job but if the inventor wrote super-narrow claims into the patent then that would be easy to work around at a future employer.


I don't think this is necessary. You can sign the rights away without a transfer of money.


You always may rightfully say you're the inventor (or one of several) of a patent issued for something you invented.

But you can't "use it" unless you own rights to the invention. Patent inventorship and ownership are different things.

Most likely, you assigned all rights to your invention to your employer at the time of invention. The patent will name you as the inventor, and your then-employer will have all rights to the invention.

Neither you nor your next employer can use the patent unless you negotiate permission from the rights holder (your former employer or whomever they sold the rights to).


150 patents?! Dear god, you are part of the problem. You clearly know it’s wrong but you do it anyway.


It's like mutually assured distruction.

Almost no one involved with software patents think they are a good idea, but until everyone backs down at the same time, you gotta keep doing it or that one evil player will destroy everyone.

I don't think software patents should exist, but I've worked on a bunch (and have a few myself). Not a single person I've worked with in that process, including the lawyers, thinks software patents are good.

But if my company didn't file them, then another patent troll or big evil corp could sue us out of existence.

By having a huge patent library, it make the discussion easier. The big companies just get together and decide to cross license all their patents at no cost to either party. But if you don't have a big inventory of patents, then the company that does won't want a cross licensing deal.


There’s a lot of cognitive dissonance in this post. Notably, you’re leaving out that smaller companies often don’t (and can’t) file patents, which means this system just further entrenches existing large companies.

Also, large patent collections don’t protect you from patent trolls since they aren’t exposed to counter suing anyway - they don’t make or sell anything!

But whatever you have to tell yourself to sleep at night, right?


There is no dissonance here. I'm fully aware that small companies are screwed in this process. They also aren't relevant. Just like with nuclear weapons, no one cares about the countries that don't have one. They only care about the evil countries that do have one.

Same thing here. Big companies have large patent portfolios. If my company doesn't have one as big as the evil corp, then my company will have problems when they sue.

And having a large patent portfolio does protect against trolls -- because if you're cross licensed with another big portfolio, you can use all of those to defend yourself in the suit. The trolls know this and will be less likely to sue the companies with large cross licensed portfolios.


> But if you don't have a big inventory of patents, then the company that does won't want a cross licensing deal.

Of course the size of the other party's portfolio shouldn't matter if you're only interested in defensive use.


Of course, but usually one of the companies is interested in offensive purposes, which is why you need a large library for defensive purposes.


If you work in a tech company you don't really have a choice. The company will patent your work whatever you think and this is part of the job. Giving them ideas to patent that you haven't implemented and are unrelated of your actual work is the only optional part.


Good for you!


Our particular IP system has extreme issues, even if you don't share my admittedly extremist view that IP ownership is fundamentally irrational or even impossible if taken to its logical conclusion.


I just had a company want to enforce http://limegreenip.hoganlovells.com/article/104/patents-law-... -- for a contract gig!


They can because 1) patens expire in ten years mostly, and 2) patenting ridiciolous stuff doesnt hold water with judges.

I think there was recently a company that got patent on “clicks in your email messages” and sued everyone relevant to shake out $$, and got laughted at by judge. (Im on mobile so can find relevant article atm)


If it doesn't matter, then the language shouldn't be there. IANAL; you might want to review your contracts carefully.


It's preposterous. I don't think there should be any patents. At all. Maybe copyright.


I agree, but I so feel like this comment is suggesting that Facebook isn't using most of these. To me, they all seem to be clear areas of interest or even correspond to features and ad placement that I've observed. Guessing whether people are single, for instance - we'd be naive to not know that FB does that.

Also worth noting that even if they don't themselves derive certain conclusions from our data or use that conclusion, it doesn't mean another party does not. For instance, a user's sleep/wake cycle could be determined by others from the data FB collects and shares with them.


It's also funny, I am going to outright not even care if someone has a patent


I have several patents I created and assigned to my company. The main reason is to allow the company to work in those ways without restriction. For example, without a patent granting rights to do operation XYZ, then a competitor may say that the company is doing something forbidden and needs to stop. We can look at all the claims for stolen IP with the various self-driving car companies to see examples.

This is a forward looking protection mechanism due to the environment that we actually have in the real world today. Even so, I don't like the idea of a social media company that sells advertising to have so many patents of the kinds mentioned in the article.


> For example, without a patent granting rights to do operation XYZ, then a competitor may say that the company is doing something forbidden and needs to stop.

Just FYI, a patent doesn't "grant rights to do operation XYZ". Patents only allow you to forbid others from doing XYZ. That means that you can have a patent that covers XYZ, but if someone else has a patent to do X (or XY), then they can stop you from doing XYZ.


Patents are strictly an offensive measure: They only allow you to sue/stop someone else from using them. They do NOT give you approval to do something.

Some people mention "defensive" patents; They are only defensive in the sense that "the best defence is an offence" - that if someone attacks you, you have something to attack them back with. But that's not actually useful against entities that aren't practicing, such as Intellectual Ventures.


In the US a patent grant confers the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention throughout the United States or importing the invention into the United States.

In that way, while there isn't legal approval, there are real world patent rights that create a bar which stops many from interfering with your business processes. In this way, there is a non-offensive and defensive ability to conduct business.

I am the inventor on a number of patents, and this is exactly how patents work out in practice for the specific type of industry and purpose that this thread is about. I am not talking about the law of patents but how patents are used in the actual real world by large companies. That was in reply to what the GP wrote, "It's crazy how the large companies file so many patents for any idea their employees can think of."

In fact, it's not "crazy" that companies do this. What is crazy is the system in which they are forced to do this. Unfortunately lawsuits take a lot of money and time, which I am sure you are familiar with.


A patent can be invalidated by identifying prior art. If you're being sued by a patent holder, a prior patent that you own that covers the technique would be a very good demonstration of prior art. I think that would be classified as a defensive use of a patent.


> I think that would be classified as a defensive use of a patent.

That makes no sense at all:

Cost of publishing in a newspaper, or arxiv, or any other verifyable source: $0.

Cost of getting a patent: $5K-$100K spent on patent editors, patent lawyers, maintenance fees, re-editing after feedback, etc.

It's been a long, long, time since I heard about anyone spending less than $20K for a granted patent. Paying $20K for something that you can get (essentially) for free, prior art defense, makes no sense at all.

Patents are an offensive legal measure; the only way the work for defence is in the "offence is the best defence" sense.


The beauty of this approach is that patents expire after ~15-20 years so it is basically just guaranteeing that everything will be free and clear soon.


For technology that is obselete in 5 years.


certain implementations will become obsolete, but once the concept is patented and the patent expires it can be re-implemented by anyone, forever. If you don't want to wait the five years, there is an astonishing amount of prior art from the 1960's to 1990's that can be applied.


No they will just patent a soight variation again and again to have ground to sue. Even if they loose (but given their lawyer power they may even win), you gona bleed so much cash you won't be be able to compete anyway.


It upsets me more to be reminded that governments grant monopolies on not-very-difficult-to-come-up-with ideas such as any of those mentioned in the article.


Yeah software is this funny new world where the cost of manufacture and distribution is orders of magnitude less than the cost of invention. Patents were intended to solve the opposite problem. Software patents are just inexcusable


I'm against software patents but patents were not intended "to solve the opposite problem" (expensive manufacture & distribution and cheap invention).

They were intended to solve the problem of technological progress being hindered by trade secrets that never come into the public domain. If you couldn't protect your recipe for making a life saving drug, no one else could make it even if you decided not to anymore or went out of business.

From the Constitution (Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8):

"To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."


I think it's easy to argue that there is some value in encouraging the publication of said inventions after the patent expiration date, but your argument is incorrect. The problem was when the Doc invents the flux capacitor in his workshop, he needs to go to GeneralIntelectric Corp, pitch his invention, and disclose his scematics for a beta production run . Without patents, the Doc doesn't have a comprehensive and cheap legal protection from the megacorp just saying no and stealing his thing. Sure, if the Doc had more money, he could invest in a legal team to get him this protection, but it would probably involve publicly filing details of his invention anyway, thus emulating a shittier version of patents.


Even more so when they're often reviewed and legislated on by people who don't even have a fraction of the basic technical curiosity--let alone knowledge--required to understand what they are doing.


There are algorithms that, in my opinion, would deserve a patent, though. Software can, in some cases, be more clever than e.g. mechanical inventions. It would be unfair if one inventor could apply for a patent, while the other could not.


Should we allow for algorithms to be patented though? To reserve something so abstract would be near equal to claiming a mathematical formula for oneself. If IBM had patented the fast Fourier transform, where would signal processing be?


I used to be absolutely against software patents on those grounds, but I nowadays actually think it's a weak argument.

We don't see people arguing we shouldn't patent physical machines because ultimately each operation is a simple physical movement, so the sum of everything is just a sequence of physical movements.

Yet we see people arguing we shouldn't patent software "machines" because ultimately each operation is a simple mathematical operation, so the sum of everything is just a sequence of mathematical operations.

The argument against the patentability of maths, AFAIK, has always been "maths is naturally inherent and merely discovered by humans". This, to me, is an argument against pure maths especially; but as we get into applied maths I think it's much less arguable that algorithms and data structures are naturally inherent (much like how physical constructions—machines—aren't naturally inherent from the laws of physics).

I still strongly think far too many patents get issued, but I'm less convinced than I used to be software patents are inherently bad, and that patents do need reform in various ways.


All programs are proofs and their results are theorems[1]. If "math is naturally inherent and merely discovered by humans" then so are all programs; programmers are just discoverers and not inventors. Given the proof of Curry-Howard Isomorphism rests on existing maths we can have another discussion about whether mathematical patents should be issued if we don't believe that maths are inherent and are actually invented, but as long as we hold that we can't patent maths then it must also hold that we can't patent programs due to their equivalence. [1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curry%E2%80%93Howard_correspon...


Programs and proofs are not actually equivalent. The Curry-Howard correspondence is only concerned with the types. If you take a useful program and replace every function with another of the same type, the program is now pointless but still corresponds to the same proof. And unless you're explicitly trying to encode mathematical statements into the type system, that proof is likely to only show something trivial like "there is an integer".


>I still strongly think far too many patents get issued

Then you are against software patents.

If millions of people carried machine shops around in their backpacks, you would be against mechanical engineering patents, because far too many patents would be issued.

At the core of patent law is "presumption of validity", which places the burden of proof on the accused, rather than the accuser. Anything that multiplies the number of patents the PTO has to examine makes that presumption less reasonable. At some point it's arguable that a party accused of patent infringement is not getting due process.

Software patents. Presumption of validity. Due process. Choose any two.


Patents on mp3 and RSA didn’t prevent them from being used everywhere. I guess a patent on FFT (which, by the way, was considered at the time, according to Wikipedia) wouldn’t have stopped its adoption either.

Also, IMO, a formula, which tells you what to compute, is essentially different from an algorithm, which tells you how. FFT would be patentable because it is non-obvious, even when given the formula for doing a Fourier transform.

It still might be non-patentable on other grounds, such as the fact that Gauss apparently described it in 1805 (http://www.cis.rit.edu/class/simg716/Gauss_History_FFT.pdf), two years before Fourier published his work on what now is known as Fourier series.


Sorry, a formula and an algorithm are not at all different.

A mathematical formula is just a symbolic expression of an abstract concept, with the procedure (algorithm) how to use it being implicit (= obvious to the person skilled in the art).

A computer algorithm can be trivially converted into purely mathematical/logic representation ("formulas" if you want), e.g. using things like lambda calculus. And vice-versa - an abstract mathematical problem formulation can be converted into an algorithm (assuming the solution is known).

If you start patenting algorithms, you are patenting math.


It is true that an algorithm can be converted to a formula, and a formula to an algorithm, but it is unlikely a given useful algorithm could be generated mechanically from a (human-written, useful) formula.

For example, you could write a formula to express the property of order in lists, and maybe with some mechanical procedure (falling under "obvious to the person skilled in the art") you could then generate an algorithm that sorted lists. However, what's the time/space complexity of that algorithm? What are the practical runtime characteristics? For industry applications the practical runtime characteristics matter as much as anything else. That you technically could compute something doesn't matter at all, if that computation might not finish until relevant celestial bodies have phase changes.

I'm not saying Quicksort should be patentable, but I do think it's at least a step and a half removed from pure math.


But you could also argue that algorithms can be expressed through Language by trivially converting them into a purely semantic/logic representation. Is then anything that can be expressed through Language not patentable because it is trivially reduced to words?


With an algorithm implementation, you require integration with a runtime, quick storage, data, a data format. You also maybe need some tests and an SLA. There must be other components I missed.


>Patents on mp3 and RSA didn’t prevent them from being used everywhere

When the people who spread adoption ignore the law, sure patents don't prevent anything, e.g. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MP3#Internet_distribution

If you take a different example, say, improvements to JPEG, it's a lot harder for camera manufacturers to ignore patents. You're at the mercy of the patent holders, whose terms apparently haven't been reasonable enough for anybody to improve the compression in digital photos beyond what we had decades ago.


You have to be careful to avoid cherry picking results. As a counter-example in the same area, arithmetic coding was arguably shut down as commercial technique by IBM patents.


If someone can patent, say, the magsafe connector, then I don't see why someone couldn't patent the FFT.

Whether it's a good thing that patents exist is another matter, though.


I think the idea behind patents was that you can't patent natural phenomena and things that derive from them. Algorithms are just another way of expressing mathematics and logic so that is what gives the rise to the idea that these things shouldn't be patentable. Mathematics and logic describe laws of nature (such as waves in the case of a Fourier transform) which exist without us "inventing" them.

Magsafe connector is an engineering invention that doesn't exist or derive from anything in the nature.


Good luck to define "natural".


A patent on fast Fourier transform would essentially do nothing, as no one appears to be selling the algorithm outright.


A patent on FFT would stop anyone from using it in their products. A patent does not solely mean you can’t sell the patented thing, it means you are prohibited from commercially using the patented thing in any way.


Seems like it would be possible to do something like: produce a freely available device that you provide some kind of supportive or value-added service for.


Copyright can still exist, as well as licensing and IP law and trade secret protection. Patenting is just saying "we'll disclose this invention in exchange for a temporary monopoly".

It's especially problematic in software because algorithms are very closely tied to fundamental mathematical axoims. For example, you can't just try really hard and make a O(n) sort. There is no benefit to society to granting a monopoly on a faster O(nlogn) sort


Does Zuckerberg defend their supposed right to prevent others from doing the things in their patent for commercial purposes?


The article didn’t exactly analyze the claims.


Facebooks entire business revolves around collecting personal information. Their business model is entirely inconsistent with personal privacy and everyone needs to know that.


The face/mask of Facebook is that they are a platform for sharing, and that FB users 'know' what they are sharing and making public. Users mistakenly assume that is the limit to the personal data that FB collects. I don't know why FB felt a need to go beyond that and start stalking everyone on the internet. They made their choice.

Point being, FB could have focused their data collection on only that information that their user's post.


I removed fb from my phone a while back but have now removed my profile. The whole concept is based on deception


Stop finding excuses to stay on Facebook. Be strong and do what is right. You can convince your friends to use other things if they are truly your friends.


Deleted that puppy 5 years ago when the info from Snowden came out. SMS is amazing and anyone with a cell phone can potentially use it, even if they don't know that it still exists.

Group SMS is some next-level shit and my friends still talk to me, I swear. It's cool, I don't have to rub my life in their face with life event posts before I talk to them. When I talk to them, I get to catch up with their life and build a relationship like normal humans used to do.


Deleted my FB and Instagram accounts about 2 months ago. The best decision I have ever made.


I don't really get facebook outside of being able to see vaguely what is going on with family. I call, text, and email my actual friends if we're not in person.


a lot of subcultures pretty much exist through facebook now. i deleted about a year before all this shit went down but had to reactivate recently because there’s really no other way to be aware of whats going on in the electronic music scene, especially for parties in illegal venues that cant be traditionally advertised


I was searching, on and off, for a specific motorcycle model for 3-4 years without finding one. Recently I found a small but active group dedicated to this particular model and within 4 weeks there was a post about some for sale.


> Nevertheless, the mobile device continuously takes location and acceleration sensor readings (e.g., once every 5 minutes) and sends the location and acceleration data to server 112.

What is "server 112"? Is this some internet-ism I don't know about?


It’s a reference to a diagram/figure in the patent


Unfortunate that they didn't have enough numbered things to use 641A...


A patent shows only that someone within the organization is supported in thinking about how to do its thing. You can infer a commitment to that thing based on it and/or other context, but it doesn't show that.


N.B. Patents are a lagging indicator of what a company is doing. They're made public more than a year after submission.


That actually depends, often patents can be fast tracked (for a few grand). This means they will be reviewed and accepted within months not years.


I have to give it to FB - it's impressive how does their personal information collection and inference work. I was recently called by their recruiter - despite me being off FB for a few years, with inactive LinkedIn profile and keeping my current career info offline, they were perfectly informed what I am up to. Google messaged me as well. It's pretty amazing they could figure it out, even if I didn't really hide anything, just wasn't updating my status anywhere for quite a while nor talking to my acquaintances that could leak it through social engineering.


Not refuting your theory, but in all probability, you (like most others in the industry) have friends ("friends"?) that simply relay info to recruiters from these two companies. Poaching is often done that way.

Also, at least in my case, both Google and Facebook periodically reach out, years after our last formal interaction.

Had a recruiter working for one of my clients for a few years. They later left the company and joined the competition. Recruiter's past "success stories" all got contacted, not a week after.


They specifically had info only my accountant had and I wasn't disclosing it to anyone outside closest family. They also contacted me within 10 minutes of each other which made it even more unusual. I guess somewhere in some system some of my info appeared and triggered both of them.


Your employment history isn't private information. It's sold by data brokers to companies for recruiting.


But who sells it to the data brokers?


Payroll companies (ADP etc)

Background check companies that do employment reference verification checks for employers

All three credit reporting companies have employment history products. So for example if your rental application includes your current and/or past employers, those will end up permanently with the credit reporting agency.

Plus others. Basically anyone that gets your employment info will sell it since as far as I'm aware it is not protected in the same way your credit history is.


>> they were perfectly informed what I am up to

Can you elaborate? If not with details then in general terms, i.e. what I had for breakfast last week, etc...


>informed what I am up to. Google messaged me as well.

Your recruiter is leaking your data, same happens in the UK. If you pass 3rd stage interview in Google, suddenly you get calls from Oracle, IBM, Amazon, MS and more. I never asked them to call me, never applied there, they just "somehow now" and want to rush with interviews with you.


That’s super interesting. Could you elaborate what kind of information they had? Any idea how they managed to stay up to date?


This is really disturbing. I daily use and consume instagram and whatsapp. I need to find a way to get out of these social apps. :(


When you say “find a way”, what makes it so hard to just delete Instagram?

Whatsapp is difficult, it’s the defector way to communicate for most people I know


It's all justified because "We connect people. Period."


"we stalk people. period"


Hey folks,

I helped out a little with this piece. Aside from being happy to answer questions — I want to share a few bonus interesting Facebook patents that didn't quite make the final cut:

In "Systems and methods for directing messages based on social data" (https://patents.google.com/patent/US20180041464A1/en), Facebook talks about creating "user influence scores" as a metric of your reputation on the social network. It talks about how, "the user influence score can be decreased when the sender is reported to be associated ... with undesired content." Or can be decreased when your friends are "reported to be associated with undesired content."

In "Multi-Factor Location Verification" (https://patents.google.com/patent/US20170261590A1/en), Facebook ponders how to accurately track your location when you have your phone's GPS turned off. The phone can ping nearby RFID readers, NFC systems, see a nearby Bluetooth device, or the MAC address of your router, or the wifi SSID. But that's the easy stuff — what if you have your phone turned off entirely? The patent discusses tracking your location based on your calendar events, concert tickets, and dinner reservations: “A location determination method may include advanced knowledge of the user's intended or estimated location, such as a reservation for an event at a particular time (e.g. restaurant, theater, concert…)”.

In "Identifying users of client devices for tracking user interactions..." (https://patents.google.com/patent/US20170353564A1/en), Facebook discusses the problem of shared computers, where different family members may use the same web browser, and therefore the same tracking cookies. The patent discusses how to feed the web browsing and activity data into a "user identity matching module", which figures out which Facebook profile to attach the activity log to based on what you're doing online. Shopping for motorcycle parts? Log it for the husband. Dora the explorer? Probably the kid. Works just as well when you're logged out.

If you guys have any favorite mildly disturbing personal surveillance patents — please share! They're fun to collect.

And in related news — this piece running this weekend turned out to have interesting timing. This week the Supreme Court ruled, somewhat tangentially, on digital privacy, in Carpenter v. United States. The narrow majority opinion held that your cell phone tower location data should not be available to government search without a warrant. The five justices wrote about 24/7 location tracking: "Only the few without cell phones could escape this tireless and absolute surveillance."

And then some of the even more interesting argumentation came in the dissents — especially Gorsuch's.

He seems to want to develop an even stronger constitutional protection for personal data, throwing out the current "third party doctrine", and rooting it instead in a more expansive reading of the Fourth Amendment. He writes: "Can the government demand a copy of all your e-mails from Google or Microsoft without implicating your Fourth Amendment rights?" And "Just because you entrust your data — in some cases, your modern-day papers and effects — to a third party may not mean you lose any Fourth Amendment interest in its contents."

I know it's wishful thinking, but I'd love to see a day when "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures..." covered all of the personal data hoards that Facebook and Google have amassed.


Do you have similar patent analysis on other social media companies like twitter, google. Curious to see what other companies are doing wrt to user privacy.


I'm afraid I don't have a link to one — but I'd certainly love to see a piece that focuses on Google's portfolio. Even better would be a bigger, more comprehensive project that compares Facebook's patents to Google's, qualitatively. Both companies stand apart from the rest of the tech giants in their possession of enough personal data to exploit these patents — it would be fascinating to see if a trend or a significant difference could be discovered in the types of personal surveillance they're describing.


Public Company shows a commitment to making money and serving it's shareholders. Facebook isn't broken the business model is.


There's nothing wrong with making money within legal and ethical bounds. Getting as close as possible to the former, or bulldozing over the latter with no concern, will certainly draw public ire. That can lead to market changes, as well as the possibility of legal changes.


To offer another perspective on defensive patents, it's worth taking a look at the Defensive Patent Licence devised by Jason Schultz and Jennifer Urban. https://scholarship.law.berkeley.edu/facpubs/2149/


The internet portal business is a house of cards, ripe for disruption at any time. I predict that within five years Facebook will have morphed into a different company. They probably don't know for sure what their new business model will be, but cranking out lots of software patents may turn out to be helpful.


You need data to build technologies of the future and continue improvement of living standards. We (Western countries) should make it as easy as possible to collect and share it between businesses, and embrace it culturally if we want to stay relevant in AI-powered future.


if we want to stay relevant in AI-powered future.

I have two arguments here.

1. The kind of data Facebook collects has nothing to do with AI, but advertising.

2. Even it mattered for AI, why do you think staying relevant in AI-powered future is more important than our privacy?


Wouldn't Facebook try to create 'AI's that mimic their users so that they can then predict what the 'highest value' advertisement is to show to the user at Facebook's next possible opportunity?


AI-powered future

As if there weren't already enough dystopian scifi around to make you think twice about whether that's actually a good thing...


That sounds like a great way for We (people of Western countries) to become irrelevant in AI-powered future.


I hope this is satire


Okay. The issue is who is control of the data, individuals who live and generate that data, or companies who collect and share it with out their customers' knowledge and understanding?


My problem with patents is that they all have the same expiry. Some industries move faster than others. A 5 year software patent would be less stifling to innovation but would give the inventor enough of a head start to get going.


Thing is, you would then get legal wrangling over the category that each specific application should go in. The applicant would obviously want it to go into a category that has a longer validity, and some creative rewording may occur.


The Patent system would be fairer if it had a graded protection system. For example, 12 months protection for a minor insight, 15 years protection for a major breakthrough with years of documented research.


>One of them describes using forward-facing cameras to analyze your expressions and detect whether you’re bored or surprised by what you see on your feed.

They patented a feature of their own platform?


Delete your facebook/whatsapp/instagram/whatever. You'll be much happier and, ideally, they will die.


Facebook's website shows a commitment to collecting personal information


"Facebook has said repeatedly that its patent applications should not be taken as indications of future product plans. "Most of the technology outlined in these patents has not been included in any of our products, and never will be," Allen Lo, a Facebook vice president and deputy general counsel, and the company's head of intellectual property, said in an email."

The author suggests Facebook through these filings shows a commitment to collecting personal information. Mr. Lo's statement does not deny this suggestion. Note also he uses the word "most". This implies that some of the technology has been or will be used by Facebook.

Instead of addressing the issue, Lo recited a truism. (At least that is all we're told about the email response.)

The truism is that out of all US patent applications filed by all applicants for all inventions, the vast majority are never embodied in either a product nor a service. For a company with its size and budget, it is obvious that this would apply to Facebook.

What is a US patent? It is not a "government-granted monopoly". It is not a right to make or sell an invention. In terms of rights, it is nothing more than the right to sue an accused infringer.

By seeking patent protection for methods Facebook will never use, Facebook demonstrates it has an interest in either (a) being able to sue others who might use them and/or (b) whether anyone else has that ability.

Thus, the question for Mr. Lu is why Facebook wants to be able to sue others for patent infringement based on the methods disclosed in these applications and/or why it cares if others have that ability.

If we are to believe that Facebook will never use the methods disclosed in the applications, then we can also believe that Facebook would never be a target of patent litigation based on use of the methods in these applications. As such they would have no reason to want to keep others from having the ability to sue.

If we are to believe Facebook is hoping to license or sell these applications to others, then we can also believe that Facebook does not care if others use the "creepy" methods disclosed in the applications. In that case, Facebook's interests are misaligned with the interests of users who care about use of methods like the ones disclosed in these applications.

If we are to believe Facebook wants patent rights as a "defensive", retaliatory or coercive measure against some other company (e.g., Facebook wants counterclaims if it is sued, or wants to be able to make Steve Jobs-like threats of "thermo-nuclear war" via patent litigation) then we can also believe that Facebook perceives itself in competition with companies that may practice the "creepy" methods in these applications.

The underlying issue raised by these applications and many others filed by Facebook is the nature of its interest in collecting personal information (cf. merely publishing information that users choose to upload or post):

Does Facebook perceive itself in competition with companies that collect personal information and take money from advertisers? Does Facebook perceive itself in competition with companies who would use the methods in these application? If yes, why?


Now they are coming up with Facebook messenger for kids... creepy stuff!


Elon Musk open sourced most of Tesla's patents for a freer innovation.


Wow, this is a new revelation. Couldn't have guessed that, what a story mark.


Feeds a growing fervor to enable views. We can arc the anti-FB storylines and realize these cycles of generated angst are self-perpetuating.

I always knew of FB's issues, but what this whole pitchfork-building exercise has shown me is how the outlets people always defend for accuracy maintain a narrative by story choice alone. In their quest for views, they've fucked up the signal-to-noise ratio.


Yet another New York Times hit piece against Facebook. It makes you wonder what a private corporation is supposed to do. In just this year:

1) The New York Times has published an endless stream editorials calling for Facebook to be destroyed [1], insisting Facebook is a thread to national security [2] and declaring Facebook a threat to the republic [3].

2) These editorials are joined by "reporting" insinuating that Facebook is working with the Chinese [4] (an obvious lie), accusing Facebook of lying to Congress and giving "data access" to device makers (another obvious lie) and, of course, when in doubt, it publishes pure rumour and speculation about Facebook [5].

And now we get yet another hit piece about Facebook's "creepy" patents. The reporter decided to pick the 7 most "creepy" patents and insist this shows Facebook's "plans" while dutifully ignoring the hundreds of other patents Facebook has generated. The reporter makes no effort to determine whether other companies have similar patents since this would reveal there's absolutely nothing special or unusual or "creepy" about such patents.

Throughout this propaganda campaign there's no mention of any conflict of interest despite the fact that we know the NY Times and other media corporations derive significant revenue from Facebook's platform and do not agree with many of Facebook's policies [6].

So it makes you wonder: what is a company supposed to do when the "leading paper" decides to continually attack them on the most flimsy terms? (Next week in the Times: Zuckerberg's creepy new haircut!) What exactly is Facebook's play here when its not foreign media waging the propaganda campaign?

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/03/opinion/facebook-fix-repl...

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/05/opinion/facebook-china-pr...

[3] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/29/opinion/facebook-privacy-...

[4] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/05/technology/facebook-devic...

[5] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/19/technology/facebook-alex-...

[6] https://www.adweek.com/digital/facebook-new-york-times-execs...


Facebook is a multi-billion dollar corporation with a history of obfuscating the truth and a terrible record on privacy. With the power they have they deserve scrutiny. I agree that selecting patents isn't a very convincing aproach but it is another data point. Could it just be that NYT is printing a lot of negative articles because they're are a lot of incidents involving Facebook doing something wrong?


> Facebook is a multi-billion dollar corporation with a history of obfuscating the truth and a terrible record on privacy. With the power they have they deserve scrutiny.

Definitely agree.

> Could it just be that NYT is printing a lot of negative articles because they're are a lot of incidents involving Facebook doing something wrong?

Yes probably, though I've also noticed a certain level of bias. Google and Amazon probably have as many "creepy" patents to infer user behaviour, yet we don't hear as much about them on this space. Hell, Google pretty much invented the whole concept of tracking users across websites, "shadow profiles", and personalized search/ads.

Cambride Analytica was bad and Facebook should've veto'd its API users better from the get-go. The next obvious step after that article was a look at Google's own leaky data practices: I've installed too many Android games which ask for essentially full-phone access and I'm sure there's people who, much like with CA, don't consider the implications and just hit "ok".

I'm not trying to defend Facebook here, but I do want to point out they're not the only ones who should be getting scrutinized.


Agree all the large powerful tech companies need to be scrutinized. Given Zucherberg had to testify at Congress recently it seems reasonable and expected that it would result in a little more focus on them.


I think it's pretty obvious considering how shallow and frequent the reporting is that this isn't traditional media criticism. There are real issues with Facebook that are not new but they have nothing to do with "creepy patents" or Facebook giving data to Chinese phone makers. (Who, you know, make the phone.) The NYT subjects no other corporation to this sort of scrutiny. In fact it's difficult to the recall any anti-"specific firm" editorials from the Times this year compared to the 4-5 anti-Facebook editorials. All of this suggests that the NYT is waging a campaign and targeting Facebook and it would be good to know why.


I think you may be correct about the NYT and FB.

I personally assume that all news outlets are biased one way or another. And I do not believe there's a news outlet anywhere which is totally fair, unbiased and objective.

It seems reasonable to guess that the NYT's leadership believes FB is extremely influential in US politics and that it is imperative that FB avoid facilitating another 2016-style presidential campaign. In addition, most of the NYT's readership almost certainly believes that FB helped unfairly swing the election to Trump through illegal Russian funded ads and so forth, and it's good for business for a paper to cater to that readership.


Interestingly, The NY Times is also extremely influential in US politics, so it does seem that reducing Facebook’s influence has a benefit to The NY Times. Anyone have any data on the tracking that The NY Times website uses? Just curious if there is any hypocrisy or conflicts of interest. Most news orgs seem to aggressively track.


Where was this level of scrutiny before last year?

Did fb turn evil in 2017.


Just because they didn't do something before why should they do it now? Is that really your argument?


I am not saying they shouldn't do it now. I am curious why it was not on their radar before 2017. Is that not a valid question? Do they not deserve any scrutiny themselves or can nytimes do no wrong, their intentions always pure. Would you extend same goodwill to foxnews?


Did you miss what happened with Facebook in the 2016 election? Did you not see Zucherberg testifying to Congress? Given these stories why would Facebook not deserve increased scrutiny by the NYT (or Fox news)?


I believe NY tîmes had articles about Facebook and privacy practices prior to 2017. There was the whole debacle where Facebook “locked down” their developer platform.

I think it’s reasonable for them to have more scrutiny now as it’s clear they don’t intend to fix their practices.


> I believe NY tîmes had articles about Facebook and privacy practices prior to 2017.

I cant seem to find any. Do you have examples?



> Where was this level of scrutiny before

Fact that you had to look very hard and go all the way to 2010 to find examples proves my point not yours.

Going back to 2010 doesn't mean plenty.


If by looking hard you mean that I had type into a Google search box then yes it was very hard.

I simply posted the first few result that were returned by my search query.

And publication dates and volume of articles are completely orthogonal.


Having been on the in and outside of numerous cases I got to say I lost all confidence in even the most reputable media outlets (like NYT).

I don’t know about the media our parents had but I can personally attest that today’s media is poor entertainment at best and hateful propaganda at worst.

I stopped reading 99% of news a year ago (by blocking all outlets websites on my phone and computer) and am just doing fine...heck I would say I am actually doing better since I have more headspace for things that really matter and have more balanced view points (the later is obviously self attested).

The real news trickle up to me anyways.


This is what I did too. My /etc/hosts is like 200 lines long :D


>It makes you wonder what a private corporation is supposed to do.

Presumably, stop being a threat to national security, republic democracy, and making creepy patents, and if these issues are structural within the company, get destroyed.

Just because there be other bad actors in this space and similar technology spaces doesn't mean we shouldn't hold Facebook's feet to the fire on their flaws. The others, respectively, will and should ultimately get their turn.


NYT's business model seems to have turned to latching on to whatever sentiment is currently popular and beating the metaphorical horse for clicks until it's a bloody pulp, before moving on to the latest "outrage" of the week.

In fact, in catering to simply the loudest popular sentiment, they put themselves in the position of having to apologize for their recent election coverage due to how utterly biased it ended up being.

I understand they're all struggling in the battle for people's attention these days, but as an institution they somehow seem to feel they still stand out from, and above of, others such as buzzfeed.


It could be the case that the click driving articles themselves is an effect of Facebook, but also Google and many others, serving as implicit or explicit filters favouring the style, because their click hungry ad selling algoritms feeds itself through ads on the article pages.

It's quite likely that they believe they have to write that way today, or shutter the doors.

They could still care more about good journalism, while mostly having to write in a style that looks like if they don't.

Only way to know for sure is to look at their economy, and how much is driven by per click ads, and how much is subscriptions/other sales.


It's the most popular sentiment but still nobody is deleting facebook, hmmm?


The NY Times did not apologize in general for their election coverage, nor admit that it was biased, nor are you able to show in any way that it was biased.


Arguably a good thing to have the press shine light on these things. No? And by no means are the stories about Zuckerberg's haircut, the majority gives insights to the masses and create great discussions.


Actually, sometimes no, or at least aggregate. The volume being used to drive clicks makes it real hard to see the forest for the trees. Even on HN, one can rarely distinguish serious FB news from these dumb opinion pieces.


>"Yet another New York Times hit piece against Facebook."

The very first word on this page is "Opinion", making it very clear that this piece is in no way reflects the editorial polices of The New York Times.

Opinion pieces by their very nature make no claims of objectivity. The "Ed-Op" section has long been a mainstay of daily news organizations in the US.

In your list of citations you've mixed both objective journalism pieces and editorials. Based on this and your comments I suspect that you might not know the difference.

If you are going to be critical of a news outlet you might want to learn to identify the different article types first.

Facebook has been a regular part of the news cycle precisely because it is so central to an ongoing dialog regarding privacy, regulatory regimes and the power of a single corporate entity.

I find your insistence of a conspiracy while using phrases like "propaganda campaign" and "hit piece" very disturbing.


Policies of an outlet can be determined by volume and slant, even op-eds. Opinion pieces help drive a narrative that regular stories do as well. It's not like, to view NYT's ads, you knew the article you were visiting. They're next to each other in search engine results. This isn't on a site named nytimesopinion.com.

The sheer volume of articles now, regardless of whether you tell people they are in different forms, are there to drive views and, when categorized by topics, build the momentum to view more on all sides of the paper. This is not the print days of old. They are using all sections to obtain eyes and calling most of them news. Pretending what are basically blogs with official seals as what used to be print pieces ignores the sheer volume and collective value they have nowadays. The noise is much too large to compare to the past.

> Facebook has been a regular part of the news cycle precisely because it is so central to an ongoing dialog regarding privacy, regulatory regimes and the power of a single corporate entity.

Disagree. The news cycle is driving the dialog at this point, not responding to it. It's clear in the vast number of sustanceless articles. The disturbing part is that you accept your pitchfork, bow, and parrot these views while telling others what they have to learn before they can be critical.


>"Policies of an outlet can be determined by volume and slant, even op-eds"

No, op-ed pieces by there very nature are not subject to editorial review. Anyone is free to right one. And it is quite common to have editorials with opposing views published opposite each other in the Ed Op section. Saying that ed-op pieces have a "slant" is absurd. The entire purpose of an editorial is to express the views of an individual.

>"This is not the print days of old."

No the New York Times actually a physical news paper that you can buy at a newsstand. I did so yesterday. It is also a newspaper of record.

>"The news cycle is driving the dialog at this point, not responding to it."

The Cambridge Analytica scandal came to light because Christopher Wylie blew the whistle and began speaking about it. I would very much consider that a human driving a dialog.


> No, op-ed pieces by there very nature are not subject to editorial review. Anyone is free to right one. And it is quite common to have editorials with opposing views published opposite each other in the Ed Op section. Saying that ed-op pieces have a "slant" is absurd. The entire purpose of an editorial is to express the views of an individual.

I specifically said "volume and slant" not just "slant". Combined, they have value. I don't know why you chose just one part.

> No the New York Times actually a physical news paper that you can buy at a newsstand. I did so yesterday. It is also a newspaper of record.

That is not as related to their website as you are making it seem. I even cautioned against pretending they're the same and you did it again.

> The Cambridge Analytica scandal came to light because Christopher Wylie blew the whistle and began speaking about it. I would very much consider that a human driving a dialog.

I specifically said "at this point". I don't know why you are talking about when it started.


The failing @nytimes




Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: