It's generally understood that when you use Facebook, you're giving up a bit of privacy to using the social network for free. Everything that you type and post could, in theory, be scanned by algorithms to help other users see your content and help advertisers target their messages to you. Now, Facebook has launched DeepText, an "understanding engine" that can comprehend what you write almost as well as actual people.
In a blog post yesterday (June 1), Facebook engineers wrote that DeepText can scan thousands of posts per seconds and understand more than 20 languages. Its primary task is to classify messages and posts. The engineers used the example of basketball and said DeepText could recognize player names, statistics, team names and more. At the same time, DeepText still has to learn ambiguous words.
"[I]f someone says, 'I like blackberry,'" the engineers wrote, "does that mean the fruit or the device?" (Today, they probably mean the fruit.)
The plan is to use DeepText to make Facebook more useful and more interesting. If it knows not just who is posting, but precisely what is being posted, Facebook can tailor posts to users more accurately, keeping them more engaged and staying on the site longer.
There's also a practical aspect: DeepText can help tailor your post to the right audience. If it sees that you're moving from your old apartment and are selling your air conditioner, DeepText could help display price and item information and possibly target other Facebook users who might be interested in buying the air conditioner. If you tell a friend in Facebook Messenger that you need a ride (or call a ride, or need to drive, etc.), as demonstrated in the blog post, DeepText may suggest using an Uber chatbot.
In theory, DeepText could also be used to prevent spam or abuse. If the engine can learn hurtful words and phrases, it could make sure nobody ever sees them.
Is there a privacy issue here? That all depends on how you look at it. If you're already using Facebook, you've been subject to tracking and algorithms for years, so you either didn't know, haven't cared or are simply willing to pay that price.
Facebook is far from the only service doing something like DeepText. For the past decade, your Gmail account has been skimming your email messages for keywords so that it can target ads.
As artificial intelligence continues to get smarter, it will understand more of what you write, recognize more of the images you post and identify more of the individuals with whom you connect. Like it or not, this is the future of the internet. But if you don't like it on Facebook, you can always delete your account.