Facebook Accused of Eavesdropping on Mobile Phone Conversations to Target Potential Consumers with Ads — But don’t fret, there’s an easy solution!
Facebook seems to have decided to cross the privacy line in making its advertising campaigns wide-ranging and almost surgical in its targeting. Previously we reported on the lawsuit filed against the social network for taking a sneak peek into private communications of its users in order to target ads and generate the maximum number of Likes.
Now an academic, Professor Kelli Burns, has accused the social networking giant of listening to mobile phone conversations of users through one of its features. Prof. Burns teaches Mass Communications at the University of South Florida and she has potentially opened up a Pandora’s Box by suggesting that official Facebook apps may have been eavesdropping on unsuspecting users.
Ms. Burns told NBC that: “I don’t think that people realize how much Facebook is tracking every move we’re making online. Anything that you’re doing on your phone, Facebook is watching.”
The professor claimed that Facebook’s app is actually spying on the users by gathering their audio data. The app tries to find out what the users are talking about so it may target them with relevant advertising based on data collected.
Prof. Burns also proved this by enabling the microphone feature on the ‘permissions’ of the app. In a conversation she said she would like to go on a safari: “I’m really interested in going on an African safari. I think it’d be wonderful to ride in one of those jeeps.”
Within 60 seconds a post appeared on her Facebook feed – this post was a story about safaris! This was not a coincidental story which happened to appear on her feed as having checked, she found that the story was some three hours old. Facebook acknowledged that the app does indeed have this feature but insisted that it just analyses people’s preferences so that suggestions may be made in the future. However, according to Prof. Burns, the app also gathers audio to listen to conversations for the purpose of making advertising via Facebook. She revealed that this didn’t come as a surprise to her at all.
Facebook maintains that it never listens to actual private conversations of mobile phone users, rather it listens for background sounds. According to the social network’s spokesperson: “Facebook does not use microphone audio to inform advertising or News Feed stories in any way. Businesses are able to serve relevant ads based on people’s interests and other demographic information, but not through the audio collection.”
This feature was introduced in 2014 and it is being suggested by Facebook that it doesn’t “always” listen to audio and neither does it store “raw audio” – but it does listen. Facebook has also clearly stated on its Help pages that it never records audio but uses it to identify ‘happenings’ and uses the information as a convenient way of identifying what users want to see as ads and suggestions.
The Facebook help page states: “If your phone’s microphone has trouble matching what you’re listening to or watching, the room you’re in may be loud or a commercial may be on. If this happens, tap, drag and release your screen to try a new match.”
You can easily turn off the microphone on your mobile phone and if you do, Facebook will not be able to turn it on even if it wanted to. Follow the steps below to turn off the:
Settings> Privacy> Microphone. Android users need to do this: Settings> Privacy> Facebook> Permissions.