Did you know that the Facebook mobile app has access to your smartphone microphone? And recently, a conspiracy theory that the mobile app listens to your conversations for advertising purposes went viral so Facebook had to issue a statement denying that claim.
“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 audio collection,” said Facebook in a recent blog post. "We only access your microphone if you have given our app permission and if you are actively using a specific feature that requires audio. 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." Facebook also requires microphone access to record and share live video for the Facebook Live feature.
Facebook's statement was in response to NBC's interview with University of South Florida communications professor Kelli Burns. During the NBC interview, Burns demonstrated the idea that the Facebook app could be "listening" to conversations by talking out loud near her device about wanting to go on an African safari while riding in a jeep. Within 60 seconds, the top post on her feed was a safari-related photo posted three hours earlier and a car advertisement also showed up on the right sidebar.
But after the story went viral, Burns acknowledged that it was blown out of proportion. Burns told the BBC that the photo of the safari posted by her friend probably surfaced to the top of her News Feed due to an increase in user engagement. And she acknowledged that the car advertisement for a Volkswagen vehicle may have appeared because that is the type of car she drives. "Although the angle of the story was supportive of the idea that Facebook uses the microphone I never made the claim that I believe that is happening, or that my one experiment with a reporter was in any way proof of that happening," said Burns via the BBC. Between Facebook's massive user base and humongous trove of user data, it does not surprise me that the social network would coincidentally shows ads about products being talked about from time-to-time.
As Facebook mentioned in its statement, there is a feature that allows you to include music or other audio in a status update. Two years ago Facebook introduced a Shazam-like feature, which recognizes songs, TV shows and movies in order to link to corresponding websites on your status update.
If you aren’t comfortable with Facebook having access to your smartphone microphone, then you can switch it off.