back to article Facebook's Zuckerberg awarded privacy patent

Mark Zuckerberg cares about your Facebook privacy settings. He cares about them so much, in fact, that he's patented a method of finding out what they are. The patent, number 8,225,376, was filed six years ago but only approved last week, and is attributed to Zuckerberg and former Facebook chief privacy officer Chris Kelly. …


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  1. banjomike

    The US patents procedure is braindead.

    'Nuff said.

    1. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge

      Re: The US patents procedure is braindead.

      Agreed. Proof positive is that the USPTO is working on Halliburton's Application Number 20080270152, "Patent Acquisition and Assertion by a (Non-Inventor) First Party Against a Second Party", which is a patent on the business model of Patent Trolling. No doubt, it will be granted any day now.

      1. The Original Cactus

        Re: The US patents procedure is braindead.

        @TMWFTE, I can't tell if you're being satirical or not.

        1. banjomike

          Re: The US patents procedure is braindead.

          Not being humorous AT ALL:

  2. Snowy Silver badge

    There should 3 settings

    1) Share only with friends

    2) Share with friends and their friends

    3) Public.

    If the method of finding out what Facebook privacy settings are so complex they can be patented then they are to complex to be useful.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      No. Four

      1) Share with no-one

      2) Share only with friends

      3) Share with friends and their friends

      4) Public.

      1. Steve Knox

        Re: No. Four

        "Share with no-one" == just don't upload to FB.

        In fact, that's probably the best privacy setting to use for pretty much everything.

        1. LaeMing

          Re: No. Four

          Yes, I only recognise two privacy settings on the internet.

          1) Public.

          2) Only keep/view on a never-networked device kept at the back of my sock drawer.

          1. AdamWill

            Re: No. Four

            well, you have to take a layered approach. Obviously it makes general sense never to post anything anywhere on the internet you wouldn't mind having on the front page of the Times tomorrow. But then you may as well _also_ use whatever privacy controls are provided, just in case they happen to work occasionally...

        2. JDX Gold badge

          "Share with no-one" == just don't upload to FB.

          No because you might want to look at it yourself or show it to people face-to-face, or have it uploaded for making public at a later date.

          1. Jonathan Richards 1

            Re: "Share with no-one" == just don't upload to FB.

            > you might want to look at it yourself or show it to people face-to-face

            Set up a website of your own, then. Hosting + domain name registration is simple, cheap and you have total control over your own data and who gets access to what. It seems simpler than all this worry and angst over whether social network sites' privacy settings do what they say they do.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: No. Four

          Except when you like a page (competition) or install an app for whatever reason but don't want other people to see your business.. I've done it a few times - share with 'Only me'

    2. Andrew Baines Silver badge

      Just have no privacy

      Just accept that there is no privacy on Facebook, then only post the stuff you're happy for the whole world to know.

    3. Tom 13

      No, like Zuckerman you missed out on the most important

      the one that nobody seems to have a handle on, and the one users want most:

      Share with a selected group of my friends on this social medium.

      I get that many of my FB friends don't give damn what Zynga game I'm playing this week. Likewise, I usually don't give a rat's ass what they had for dinner last night. I'd actually be quite happy not to spam them with alerts by setting something in MY privacy settings. But neither FB nor Zynga have any interest in providing that functionality.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    'privacy settings were "deceptive" and that users' choices would be "ineffective" in certain circumstances.'

    Is this the same system that is the result of the patent? Does this give them an exclusive right to create deceptive and ineffective privacy systems?

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The only privacy thing Zuckerberg can have patented

    .. is privacy theatre ..

    Given the damage he has caused to privacy on a global scale the guy should be given a ban from going near user data, not a patent.

  5. Eddy Ito


    Facebook and privacy have never been two things I would ever associate together without the word "invasion" following closely behind.

    1. Thorne

      Re: Gobsmacked

      Facebook only patented privacy to stop anyone else from installing privacy. That way everyone has to be just as intrusive as facebook. It's simple really.

    2. LaeMing

      Re: Gobsmacked

      The concept of /privacy/ is a bit of an anti-thesis to the whole concept of /social media/, me thinks!

      1. Nigel 11

        Re: Gobsmacked

        So how on earth did we manage to have both friends and privacy in the days before the internet existed?

        1. Thorne

          Re: Gobsmacked

          "So how on earth did we manage to have both friends and privacy in the days before the internet existed?"

          By not telling every man and his dog every time we scratch our bums.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Given I've read article but not links, which will have to wait for tomorrow, the language isn't that strange. The patent, I mean: not the article. In the article there are unforgivable mistakez.

    On the other hand if summary is correct it seems excessively broad, unclear in it's intent and is not claiming actual innovation, merely extension of common procedure, so it is not a valid patent request, never mind grant. Only a very dim patent officer would allow it. If USPTO allowed it - and from article they did - then if EU govts have even an ounce of morals they shoud invalidate treaties sharing patent rights that aren't equitable. Tomorrow.

    That'll happen - our EU overlords are here to protect us, after all. No? Really?

    1. JetSetJim

      Re: language

      unclear if your grammar/spelling errors are ironic or not.... even under the assumption of some shorthand being used

    2. AdamWill

      Re: language

      The main claim seems reasonably specific, to me; it hinges heavily on the idea of a 'narrative explanation' of privacy settings. Essentially it's the following:

      * You set all five gajillion privacy options facebook offers to something

      * It then figures out the combined impact of the settings on some specific operation

      * It presents the impact in natural-language, narrative form, e.g. 'Your relatives and friends who live in London can see pictures you upload from your phone', or something along those lines

      It's still arguable whether it should be patentable, but it's a pretty specific patent, as it now stands, and not likely to be terribly applicable to anything other than, well, social networks with massively over-complex privacy settings.

  7. Steve Knox

    Prior Art

    For example, if a user says a photo should be visible in the geographic region of San Francisco, to members of a certain group the user belongs to, and to "friends of friends," the system would add up all of these options and generate a summary explaining what it all means.

    I believe Messrs. Cantor, Euler, and Venn can all show prior art.

    WTF, USPTO? Seriously? I mean, really, allowing the patenting of a simple application of set theory?

    1. tom dial Silver badge

      Re: Prior Art

      Not to mention George Boole (1815 - 1864).

    2. Steve Evans

      Re: Prior Art

      The USPO gets paid per patent they issue. So they grant pretty much anything.

      If that's the way they are going to be paid then fine, but they also have to suffer a bigger fine for every patent they issue which is subsequently thrown out of court as obvious, no invention or prior art exists.

      1. Tom 38

        Re: Prior Art

        Surely they get paid per application, rather than per patent that they issue. I can't imagine that if you apply for a patent and it is denied, that you do not pay anything.

        In which case, if the USPTO simply wanted to maximise revenue they would reject each patent application outright, forcing each patent to be re-submitted at least once before approval.

        (In reality, you pay a filing fee in order for the patent to be examined, and pay a maintenance fee every X years, so maybe they just think the more on the books, the more they will make)

    3. AdamWill

      Re: Prior Art

      A venn diagram is not a 'narrative explanation'.

      I love a good patent bash as much as the next person, but can we at least do it accurately?

      "generating, by a processor, a narrative explanation of which other users can access which categories of information based on the privacy settings selections, wherein generating the narrative explanation comprises, for one or more of the privacy settings selections, selecting a narrative explanation template based on the privacy settings selection, wherein the narrative explanation template comprises text that identifies a group of other users who can access a category of information about the user profile based on the privacy settings selection"

      Warning: reading patents can cause your brain to melt and leak out of your ears. Which is admittedly a good reason for not doing it, but it _can_ make you look silly sometimes.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Looking ahead

    You have to admit it was pretty far sighted to submit such a patent at the time. How could they have guessed then at the value of being able to hinder 3rd party products that explain clearly what your FB security settings are and what they actually mean.

    1. AdamWill

      Re: Looking ahead

      As I read it, a third party product wouldn't actually infringe this, because the main claim includes:

      "accessing a profile for a user stored in an electronic database; presenting a first user interface to the user; receiving a plurality of privacy setting selections provided by the user using the first user interface"

      i.e. it includes _setting_ the preferences, not just reading them and summarizing them. So a third-party tool which reads your facebook preferences but can't set them couldn't infringe it. I'm not a lawyer, and this isn't legal advice, but AIUI, if your invention doesn't match _any single part_ of a given claim, it can't be held to infringe the patent based on that claim.

      If, say, Google+ included this kind of mechanism in its privacy settings that'd potentially be infringing, though.

  9. Mark Wilson

    SO now you can patent the obvious

    Can I patent breathing?

  10. Mark 65

    Patently obvious

    "The patent was rejected for obviousness in 2009 and then again 2011, and was only finally accepted after Zuck agreed to revise three of its claims. Even in its final form, it's arguably still very broad."

    Even in its final form, it's arguably still very obvious.

    1. Thorne

      Re: Patently obvious

      Slide to unlock wasn't obvious how how obvious was it?

  11. tom dial Silver badge

    Shameful (and obvious, too)

    Now I've read through the patent gibberish once, I am further appalled. On initial reading, this appears to be a patent on a computer application not significantly different from quite a few that my colleagues and I worked on during the '80s - '00s that established, updated, and displayed data stored in a database (or some in a file based purpose-built data store). Although most of those I worked to support were account and finance applications, the patent does not really describe something a lot different. And standard mainframe access control systems like IBM RACF, CA ACF2 and CA Top Secret seem *very* like Mr. Zuckerberg's "invention", which appears to be essentially a particularization to the "privacy" domain of a generic database-based application. Any moderately capable and experienced application designer would have "invented" something similar.

    1. AdamWill

      Re: Shameful (and obvious, too)

      I don't think you paid sufficient attention to the gibberish. Remember that you have to take each claim _as a whole_ - something has to meet the description of a whole claim for it to be in violation of the patent. The main claim (1) of this patent isn't just about reading, updating and displaying data stored in a database - it's about summarizing the impact of a subset of that data on some specific operation, and rendering that summary in natural language (a 'narrative explanation'). I doubt the applications you worked on did that, because usually when techies are working on a database thingy, they don't need to simplify and summarize the data and display it in a natural language form. That's only useful, really, in the Facebook kind of context.

      (Still not convinced it should be patentable, but I think in practice, few if any other products are potentially in violation of this patent; it's just not a thing there are many use cases for.)

  12. Homer 1

    Farcebook being awarded a privacy patent... like Hitler being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.


    1. Thorne

      Re: Farcebook being awarded a privacy patent...

      " like Hitler being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize."

      Just like the song

      "Every day, I'm out there trying to make the world safe. For Germany.

      I don't want war. All I want is peace. Peace. Peace!

      A little piece of Poland. A little piece of France

      A little piece of Portugal and Austria perchance

      A little slice of Turkey and all that that entails

      And then a piece of England Scotland lreland and Wales

      A little nip of Norway. A little spot of Greece

      A little hunk of Hungary. Oh what a lovely feast

      A little bite of Belgium and now for some dessert

      Armenia Albania and Russia wouldn't hurt"

  13. Mike Bell

    My favourite patent

    I love the bit about "Cats are not characteristically disposed toward voluntary aerobic exercise."

    1. Anonymous Dutch Coward

      Re: My favourite patent

      :Traditional feline time-passing! Awesome.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    My Facebook privacy policy:

    1. Do Not Use

    2. See 1

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "The patent was rejected for obviousness in 2009 and then again 2011, and was only finally accepted after Zuck agreed to revise three of its claims. Even in its final form, it's arguably still very broad."

    Yet the USPTO still agreed it. I mean W O W. You hear lots of really stupid comments, thoughs and opinions daily but the yanks PTO beat them all hands down.

    Not the greatest advert, eh?

  16. SJRulez
    Thumb Up

    My Patent Application

    I've developed a system to stop stupid legal arguments over patents....

    1) Weld mailbox shut at USPTO

    2) Once staff leave for the evening weld doors shut

    3) Put up sign redirecting all applications to The Readers, The Reg Forums C\O The Register

    Patent pending.....

    1. Homer 1

      Re: My Patent Application

      Just redirect them all to the nearest landfill site, where most patent applications belong.

  17. ForthIsNotDead
    Thumb Up

    Looks to me like they just patented...

    ...the SQL query...

    "The present invention provides a system and method for dynamically generating a privacy summary. A profile for a user is generated. One or more privacy setting selections are received from the user associated with the profile. The profile associated with the user is updated to incorporate the one or more privacy setting selections. A privacy summary is then generated for the profile based on the one or more privacy setting selections."

    Hmm... You mean like:

    SELECT * FROM PrivacySettings WHERE UserID=" GetUserID

    Way to go Facebook.

    1. AdamWill

      Re: Looks to me like they just patented...

      You can't cut the description half way through. The important bit comes later.

  18. Homer 1

    re: The "important" bit

    You mean "receiving a plurality of privacy setting selections ... updating the profile ... selecting a narrative explanation template ... and providing the narrative explanation to the user"?

    IOW: multiple SQL queries presented by a "wizard" UI.

    Gee, I bet that's never been done before ... except possibly by every database programmer since the dawn of computing.

    The crap that qualifies as patentable "invention" these days is a joke. These "inventors" are nothing but a bunch of carpetbaggers selling snake oil ... at gunpoint ... with the protection and encouragement of corrupt "laws".

    What a load of bollocks.

    1. AdamWill

      Re: re: The "important" bit

      I can't off-hand recall seeing anything else which really matches the description anywhere. My point isn't necessarily that it's a good patent, just that it's actually a very specific one which isn't likely to affect anyone else very much.

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