Social networks and privacy

Apr 14, 2018


Social networks and privacy have been among the topics that received the most attention this past week. Facebook, in particular, was the focus with its CEO giving testimony before Congress. I thought it'd be interesting to see what the numbers on patenting activity say about Facebook and privacy.

A cursory analysis shows that Facebook is a very active patentee. Since 2012, this company received 2,136 patent grants in the U.S. and submitted other 691 patent applications. This suggests the company was very active in patenting since its early years (at least 1,400 of its grants result from applications submitted in its first 7-8 years of life). Interestingly, the application submission pace appears to have slowed down from an average of 20+ patent applications per month between 2012 and 2014, to less than 5 per month in the past 3 years.

Our technology topic and category analysis is still not as granular as I'd like (more on this soon), but broader categories are still somewhat insightful. The bulk of patents relate to data processing (50% of patent grants), databases (28.5%), and network communications (22.5%; which doesn't include wireless communications, a 12.5% of grants). Face recognition and related technologies - a topic mentioned by Zuckerberg more than once in his testimony - might be among the company's top-10 technologies in terms of patenting activity. Data recognition represents slightly more than 5% of its patent grants.

But the topic I was more interested in is privacy. And this is probably one of the most interesting findings. Privacy is an explicit topic in only 2.5% of Facebook's patent grants and a slightly higher share of its patent applications since 2012 (that is, in total, about 70 patents). While the insight value of patent counts is relative, portfolio compositions do tell a story about the focus of the company. Furthermore, comparisons between companies could be even more insightful. That 2.5% of Facebook becomes a more significant share if we compare with the 0.45% of Google or the 0% of Twitter (yes, zero; Twitter actually has a small number of patents - about 75 patents granted since 2012 - and none of them is related to privacy in an explicit manner).

As I mentioned, further work needs to be done in our app to clean up topics and categorize events, so I took a quick look at the patent details to illustrate what this activity is about. The latest patent grant that Facebook received on privacy-related technology, for example, involves the dynamic enforcement of privacy settings (Patent grant US9754125B2). It basically relates to a system that enforces user privacy setting changes every time its data is shared with third parties, that is, all new data requests by third parties would be affected by changes in settings (haven't gone into as much detail as to know whether this effect is retroactive).

As usual, all data mentioned in this quick post comes straight from our app. If you'd like to learn more about these companies and technologies, you may sign up at

How to cite

InnovationPulse (Apr 14, 2018). Social networks and privacy. Retrieved from

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The purpose of this blog post is to illustrate the kind of insights users can obtain by using our web app. None of the insights or information we provide are intended as investment, tax, accounting or legal advice.