Pinterest Reads Into Things

Pinterest wants to get to know you on a deeper level.

Photo by Stephen Phillips via Unsplash.

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Pinterest wants to get to know you from more than just your scrolling habits. 

The company is seeking to patent a method for “generating personalized content” based on a user’s email data. The system would, with user authorization, go through an email that a user has connected to their Pinterest account to identify topics that they may be interested in. 

This system relies on a machine learning model that essentially makes your emails the dataset it learns from: It evaluates emails to identify new topics of interest, update existing topics, or “simply record the information as user data as the basis of making further enhancements or revisions to the user’s preferences.” The system may decide the “strength and sentiment” of a user’s affinity for a topic based on how often it comes up in their inbox and how it relates to the user’s current Pinterest habits.

Based on the model’s findings, Pinterest will then serve you custom content, auto-generating boards and surfacing posts based on your indicated interests. For example, if you sign up for a newsletter about gardening, Pinterest’s AI may fill your boards with gardening tips and inspiration. If it stumbles on an email about travel bookings to Costa Rica, it may put outfit ideas or restaurant recommendations on your feed. 

Because people often use multiple social media platforms, Pinterest said it may be difficult to understand the full extent of a user’s preferences. “For example, one social networking service may have substantial user preference information in regard to a user’s preference for travel, while another service may hold information regarding that same user’s preference to hobbies.” 

“Each social networking service is in competition with one another for a finite amount of a user’s attention,” Pinterest noted in its filing.  

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Pinterest’s main moneymaker is digital advertising, a business model that isn’t doing too hot amid an uncertain economy. The company recognizes this, too: In its most recent earnings call, CFO Todd Morgenfeld noted that “the ads market continues to be uncertain given the macroeconomic environment.” 

This system could help Pinterest get to know its users much more closely, and in turn, help the platform keep hold of user attention. The more monthly active users it has, the better it looks to advertisers, so finding efficient ways to appeal to its user base may be Pinterest’s plan to get more eyes on its ads.

Pinterest could have another lucrative use for your email data: shopping. The platform has boosted its attention to shopping tech in recent months. In February, CEO Bill Ready said that Pinterest intends to make “every pin shoppable.” 

In April, Axios reported that the company planned to invest heavily in shopping tech, including computer vision, machine learning and AI to personalize shopping and track user behavior. Chief Revenue Officer Bill Watkins told the publication at the time that the tech aims to “drive the best shopping experience fulfilled by merchants that are already on our platform.” This patent, filed in February, could provide a look at what’s next in Pinterest’s shopping strategy.

But Pinterest’s email-scraping ambitions may come with a few hinges. For one, email inboxes aren’t always as clean cut as this patent lays out. Pinterest has to make sure its tech doesn’t study spam, work and personal emails as it makes its predictions, especially since machine learning models are only as good as the data they’re trained on. 

And even though Pinterest hasn’t had any significant data breaches in recent years, the question remains of whether or not the platform’s users would be comfortable with handing over access to their potentially personal or sensitive data in the name of better pins. 

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