Too busy to update?

Help is on the way for folks who feel obligated to comment on, “like” or repost every little scrap of minutiae that lands on their Facebook page.

The folks at Google are seeking a patent for a program described as “automated generation of suggestions for personalized reactions in a social network,” the International Science Times website reports.

Sad as it is, some people practically live on social media sites and feel cut off from the world if they can’t be in constant contact with their many online “friends.” I suspect the automated program wasn’t developed with those folks in mind.

They are, to my mind, probably beyond hope. They’re addicted. They’ll ignore people they’re sitting with at lunch, their children and their co-workers in order to check their sites or shoot off a quick text message.

The casual user — the one who checks a site once or twice a week — probably is more genuinely interested in the online interaction and would want to reply with a well-thought-out message. I’m guessing that person probably doesn’t have many online friends or keeps in touch with people in person as well as online.

So, somewhere between the extremes, might be the person who has lots of online friends, has become a slave to social media but really doesn’t care all that much about quality interaction. For that person, it probably is all about the appearance of being interested.

Enter the new Google program, which apparently can be applied to a variety of social media, from Facebook to Twitter and from Instagram to email.

According to International Science Times, Google says its program can be applied to any form of communication, including email or instant messaging. The goal is to help social media users stay on top of the constant information stream by noticing important posts or messages from friends and suggesting a possible “personalized reaction” based on a computerized analysis of the user’s history.

“There is no requirement for the user to set reminders or be proactive,” Google wrote in the patent application. “The system automatically, without user input, analyzes information to which the user has access, and generates suggestions for personalized reactions to messages.”

That’s kind of scary.

What sort of information would be analyzed? Online buying habits? Key words in emails? A trend in “likes”? Could it access a user’s Web browser history and use that to respond to someone with what turns out to be an inappropriate message?

What if someone had a habit of ranting to a friend about a mutual acquaintance and then discovered the social media assistant had used information from those communications to send a questionable message to the target of those rants?

I’m not the only skeptic. Others have expressed concerns about privacy and the breakdown of interpersonal social fabric.

An official for a British privacy organization said the technology has the potential to allow companies to harvest even more data from personal communications.

With all the concern in recent months about governmental agencies spying on people via telephone, email and so on, there is a very real fear that Big Brother is watching.

Imagine the mess that would ensue if someone were questioned about certain email or other online communications that were generated by a computer program and which the “sender” never saw.

Dee Camp is a reporter at The Chronicle. She can be reached via email at


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