December 4, 2013

Facebook Uses “Social Signals” and Profile Information to Stop Piracy


Social networking giant Facebook has been granted a patent to use profile information to analyze whether shared files are “pirated” or not. The data is carefully analyzed using several social indicators including the interests of the poster and recipient, their geographical location, and their social relationship. According to Facebook the patent can help the company to “minimize legal liabilities,” but whether users will be happy remains to be seen.

facebayIn common with other sites dealing with user-generated content, Facebook has to battle a constant stream of unauthorized copyright material.

When it comes to targeting infringement Facebook has a better track record than its Russian counterpart VKontakte, which may be due to its progressive anti-piracy measures.

TorrentFreak has learned that one of the anti-piracy strategies developed by the company uses the social profile information of Facebook users and their connections to others as a factor in determining whether a shared file is copyright-infringing or not. Facebook was granted a patent for its invention today, but it’s not known whether the technology is already being used on a wide-scale.

The patent in question is named “Using social signals to identify unauthorized content on a social networking system” and in the introduction Facebook describes the wealth of personal and social information the company can tap into.

“”[…] users have been voluntarily divulging more of their personal information, such as their friends, geographic location, preferred television shows and movies, hobbies, and activities to social networks,” Facebook notes, adding that they can also see who people communicate with and who they are connected to.

Taken together this is a treasure trove of information, but one that’s currently underutilized. With its new anti-piracy tool, however, Facebook hopes to use this intelligence to predict whether shared content is legitimate or not.

“While all of this information is recorded and stored, it has not been used to predict the nature of any content items that users interact with. In particular, the social activity surrounding a piece of content on a social network has not been used to predict whether the content is unauthorized,” Facebook writes.



Facebook’s social anti-piracy tool




The patented technology can be used to detect a wide variety of unauthorized content, but piracy in particular is a problem for social networks, Facebook explains.

“Some users abuse the content posting feature by posting content items that infringe on copyright laws or otherwise violate the social network’s terms of use. For example, users might use the content sharing feature to post chapters from popular novels, episodes of television shows, or links to web pages on external domains that might contain similar copyrighted content.”

By using social signals to detect copyright infringing links and files, Facebook believes that operators of social networking sites can “minimize legal liabilities.”

To come to an accurate estimate of the infringing nature of a file, the patented system can use all social indicators available to it, including what people “like” and where the live.

“The social networking system may collect social signals about the content such as the diversity of the viewers of the content, the relationship between the viewers and another user or other entity that is featured or tagged in the content, and the relationship between the viewers and the user who posted the content,” Facebook writes.

“The social signals are then used to calculate a series of aggregated metrics to generate a prediction for whether the content is an unauthorized use of the social networking system.”

The final step is to delete the allegedly pirated files or links, or hand them over for a more detailed review.

Facebook doesn’t reveal whether the patented system is already in use or which personal details of Facebook users are considered. However, according to its privacy policy the company can use all available user information to protect “rights or property” of Facebook and others.

Nonetheless, not all Facebook users will be happy to see that everything they do is being carefully screened for hints of piracy.

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