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Facebook's Zuckerberg awarded privacy patent

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Mark Zuckerberg cares about your Facebook privacy settings. He cares about them so much, in fact, that he's patented a method of finding out what they are.

The patent, number 8,225,376, was filed six years ago but only approved last week, and is attributed to Zuckerberg and former Facebook chief privacy officer Chris Kelly.

Broadly, it describes a system for dynamically generating a summary of privacy preferences for a social network user. According to the patent application's summary:

The present invention provides a system and method for dynamically generating a privacy summary. A profile for a user is generated. One or more privacy setting selections are received from the user associated with the profile. The profile associated with the user is updated to incorporate the one or more privacy setting selections. A privacy summary is then generated for the profile based on the one or more privacy setting selections.

The application then goes on to describe, in similarly stultifying language, how the system goes about summarizing the various, overlapping privacy preferences that social network users might assign to their posts, photos, and other data.

For example, if a user says a photo should be visible in the geographic region of San Francisco, to members of a certain group the user belongs to, and to "friends of friends," the system would add up all of these options and generate a summary explaining what it all means.

Rocket science it's not. But to be fair, it was the first patent Zuckerberg ever applied for, and as ReadWriteWeb reports, the USPTO didn't approve it without some argument.

The patent was rejected for obviousness in 2009 and then again 2011, and was only finally accepted after Zuck agreed to revise three of its claims. Even in its final form, it's arguably still very broad.

A quick search of the US patent database shows ten other patents that list Zuckerberg as an inventor, and a total of 39 patents assigned to Facebook.

Doubtless, the social network would like more, after having spent much of the year embroiled in a patent squabble with Yahoo! that was only resolved earlier this month.

In March, Facebook reportedly acquired 750 patents in a deal with IBM.

Meanwhile, Facebook's track record for summarizing its users' privacy preferences has been less than stellar. In November, it settled with the US Federal Trade Commission over charges that its privacy settings were "deceptive" and that users' choices would be "ineffective" in certain circumstances.

As part of that settlement, Facebook must submit to an independent privacy audit every two years for the next 20 years. ®

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