Does Facebook Know Your Emotional State?

-Facebook Privacy Image-This afternoon I was reading a New York Times article about improving Netflix’s Cinematch video suggestion algorithm. The article is a great overview about the benefits of using consumer activity data for commercial purposes. The more data we have about consumer activity, the more likely we are able to predict their purchase behavior. One thing that is missing from the equation, as the New York Times points out, is the ability to track consumer emotion when they are browsing the web.

In one sense, collaborative filtering is less personalized than a store clerk. The clerk, in theory anyway, knows a lot about you, like your age and profession and what sort of things you enjoy; she can even read your current mood. (Are you feeling lousy? Maybe it’s not the day for “Apocalypse Now.”) A collaborative-filtering program, in contrast, knows very little about you – only what you’ve bought at a Web site and whether you rated it highly or not.

So can’t Facebook or someone on the platform develop an application for judging your emotion based on your Facebook status? Someone once jokingly told me that Facebook can predict whether or not you will break up with your significant other in the near future based on your Facebook activity. With all that data, can’t Facebook also likely tell you what sort of emotional state you are in?

While not all users update their status update regularly, a combination of all the data being compiled by the company can most likely determine your emotional state with a high degree of accuracy. While many people complain about Facebook failing to develop an effective monetization model, I don’t think the company has anything to worry about.

Facebook has some of the most structured data about individual consumers and that data can be used for an infinite number of purposes:

  • Automated in store consumer targeting – Imagine walking into a store and messages appearing that are targeted directly to you. While such images were painted in “Minority Report,” we are not far from having such capabilities if you think about retailers having direct access to your Facebook data.
  • Consumer emotional factors – Facebook could theoretically provide an API for all retailers, both online and offline, to subscribe to which tells them what a consumer’s emotional state is when the consumer visits your store. While such data has not been factored in yet, I doubt we are far away.
  • Many others – When you have practically unlimited information voluntarily provided by consumers, there are tons of possibilities for leveraging that data.

Consumers want these things. In a conversation with some family friends the other night one person said, “If you had told me 10 years ago that in the near future everybody will be putting all their personal data on the web and sharing it with the world, I wouldn’t have believed you.” It’s 2008 and more people than ever are sharing their personal information online and that number continues to increase.

Younger consumers now expect a benefit from sharing their data. For the most part, contributing to the global voyeuristic network among our friends lets us all be voyeurs. There are also promotional benefits of sharing all your information. The ultimate benefit from a commercial standpoint will be an improved shopping experience that is custom targeted to us individually.

The real value in a world where consumers are individually targeted is in consumer profiling. Much of this is already being done as described by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, but until recently consumer information was aggregated through many databases, many of which had inaccurate information. Facebook’s data on the other hand could possibly be the most accurate profiles of consumers.

Walmart has the largest database in the world related to consumer information and custom profiles built on each of us, but unfortunately much information is still absent from their database, especially the information we each provide to Facebook. All this adds up to what could be a privacy disaster but it also means that Facebook is in the unique position to determine information about consumers previously not available.

It also requires Facebook (or alternative companies plugged into Facebook) to develop algorithms for filtering activity data. For now though, Facebook is primarily focused on expanding their reach as fast as possible because as people are pulled into the network, their switching cost becomes to high to leave once they have become properly integrated.

So how soon do you think it will be before Facebook can tell us our emotional state?

Image used from ABC News