Facebook has shut down rumors that it uses your mobile device’s microphone to eavesdrop on conversations so it can better target ads. In a statement issued on June 2nd, Facebook said it “does not use your phone’s microphone to inform ads or to change what you see in News Feed.” The company says it only shows ads based on people’s interests and other profile information.

Facebook is responding directly to claims made by Kelli Burns, a professor of mass communications at University of South Florida. Burns told The Independentthis week that she thought the company was secretly listening to its users’ conversations, but had no concrete proof.

People have claimed Facebook eavesdrops on its users for years

Burns wasn’t the first to float the theory, although her claims did provoke a new torrent of bombastic headlines. In fact, fears of Facebook eavesdropping has been bubbling around social media circles for quite some time. The logic is that Facebook has access to your microphone because users give it permission to listen when trying to use mobile app features like capturing video. It’s not so farfetched then to think Facebook might be listening all the time — to what you talk about in person or on the phone with others — so it can plant stories in your News Feed and display ads related to what you were discussing. Devices like Amazon’s Echo definitively do listen all the time, unless muted.

This would be an egregious violation of privacy

Of course, this would be an egregious violation of privacy (and probably illegal). Facebook has since been forced to clarify that it listens to what you say only when you activate a microphone-specific feature. “We only access your microphone if you have given our app permission and if you are actively using a specific feature that requires audio,” the recent statement reads. “This might include recording a video or using an optional feature we introduced two years ago to include music or other audio in your status updates.” The feature Facebook is referring to is designed to tag a music or television show in the background when you’re writing a status. It requires you to opt-in and was marketed as similar to music-tagging service Shazam.

If you’re paranoid, however, and really don’t want Facebook listening to anything you say at any time, regardless of its supposed utility to advertisers, you can turn off the app’s access to your microphone. In iOS, go to the Settings panel, find Facebook, and slide off the “microphone” option. On Android, go to “Privacy and Safety” in Settings, find the microphone section under the app permissions panel, and toggle off Facebook’s access.


By Nick Statt

(Source:  theverge.com; June 3, 2016; http://tinyurl.com/gujat3o)