InformationWeek reported Friday that Facebook has patented a method of "dynamically providing a news feed about users of a social network." The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office awarded U.S. Patent No. 7,669,123 on Tuesday. Facebook first applied for it in 2006, the story says.
The patent includes 25 separate claims. According to the patent summary:
A user (the viewing user) of a social network may choose to view a news feed about another user (the subject user) in the social network...A list of the subject user's activities...may be drawn from various databases within the social network. The news feed is automatically generated based on the list of activities.
As writer Paul McDougall points out, the patent could pose problems for other social networks that compile user activity feeds. It depends on how Facebook enforces its rights and how the courts decide to interpret the patent.
But since I have privacy on the brain right now, the first thing I thought of was the trouble Google caused with Buzz. People were being followed who didn't want to be found and were automatically following people they really didn't want to know more about, and the users really had no say in the matter.
Upon a closer read of the InformationWeek piece, however, I found this little snippet in the patent summary:
as well as limiting access to the news items to a predetermined set of viewers...
Though it doesn't speak to all the issues that might come up, it's at least a hint that Facebook has considered some of them and doesn't plan to let just anyone and everyone on the network see these feeds.
I feel better for the moment, but it will be interesting to watch.