Facebook Accused of Listening to Everything You Say — Here’s How to Stop It

anthony freda facebookBy Jay Syrmopoulos

Recently, an expert has come out to claim that Facebook may be listening in on your conversations. Kelli Burns, a mass communication professor at the University of South Florida, believes the app might be using people’s microphones to gather data on the content of people’s conversations.

Facebook admits that the app is capable of listening to what’s happening around it — but claims the feature simply identifies what people are listening to or watching as means of conveniently posting about it.

Currently, the feature is only available in the U.S. and has been available for a couple of years according to Facebook, although recent warnings from Burns have drawn renewed interest.

According to a report in The Independent:

Professor Burns has said that the tool appears to be using the audio it gathers not simply to help out users, but might be doing so to listen in to discussions and serve them with relevant advertising. She says that to test the feature, she discussed certain topics around the phone and then found that the site appeared to show relevant ads.

Though Professor Burns said she was not convinced that Facebook is listening in on conversations – it may have been that she was searching for the same things that she chose to discuss around the phone – but she said that it wouldn’t be a surprising move from the site.

The claim chimes with anecdotal reports online that the site appears to show ads for things that people have mentioned in passing.

Facebook admits that their app can listen to audio and collects audio information from users – but that the two aren’t combined, and that no audio data is stored or correlated with advertising.

“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.”

Although Facebook claims they do not listen in on conversations, the catch here is that Facebook does have access to your phone’s microphone — as giving permission to access your microphone is a requirement to be able to download the site’s mobile app – thus giving the company the ability to access your phone’s mic at any time.

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According to a report in Forbes:

This is not the first time Facebook was accused of listening to conversations using smartphone microphones. Reddit user NewHoustonian started a discussion last year about whether the Facebook app was listening to conversations for advertising purposes. NewHoustonian started off the discussion with a post — which has since been removed — about how he suspects the Facebook app was listening to him because he started seeing pest control ads after talking to his girlfriend about killing a cockroach. That Reddit thread now has over 1,700 comments in regards to Facebook listening to conversations and several of those comments refer to similar experiences.

Additionally, police in Belgium have warned citizens to not use Facebook’s recently added Reactions feature if they are concerned about safeguarding their personal privacy.

Whether or not Facebook is actually listening is debatable, but the ability to listen certainly exists given the fact that each person with the mobile app has already given the company permission to access their phone’s microphone. Thankfully, there is an easy solution for those that don’t trust the social media giant with access to their microphone.

One simple way is to uninstall the app altogether and simply access Facebook from the mobile site itself, thus never having to give any permissions to access your data or microphone.

Another fix is to turn off the microphone in a phone’s settings, which is relatively easy to do. Since this is done at the operating system level, doing so will mean that Facebook loses the ability to access your microphone completely.

On an iPhone this can be done by entering the app’s settings, going to privacy and then switching the slider for the microphone to the off position; on an Android phone, go to settings and then privacy, App permissions, Microphone, and from there you can change the permissions that the Facebook app is given.

turn-off-facebook-mic

While Facebook claims that they may not be actively listening to your conversations, the idea that you have given permission for the company to access your microphone and text message data simply by downloading and installing the app is certainly disconcerting for those completely unaware that they have given such privacy-shattering permissions to Facebook.

Image Credit: Anthony Freda Art

Jay Syrmopoulos writes for TheFreeThoughtProject.com, where this article first appeared.


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10 Comments on "Facebook Accused of Listening to Everything You Say — Here’s How to Stop It"

  1. “Here’s How to Stop It”
    Luckily for me, it never started. Something I find funny is people have let FB become such a big part of their existence, that simply deleting their account does not appear to be an option. AM I the only one who relies on email any more?

    • No. I don’t do facebook at all. But many websites require facebook to comment. Of course I just don’t comment

      • Yes, aggravating isn’t it? When I find websites like that, I block them in my browser so I am not bothered attempting to try at some future point after I might have forgotten.

    • Kelly Rae Zimmerman | June 19, 2016 at 12:05 pm | Reply

      Facebook software is difficult to remove. When it started going through all my contacts i put stop to it. Had to go thru a long list of steps and not reply to anything for ten days. Information on how to do this is available on the web. This was several years ago snd i am sure it is way more difficult now. Dont think that all you need to do is delete or uninstall the app on your computer. I access facebook on my phone, but the program is not installed. Actually, i should say that i could access fakebook on my phone but i dont because it is a worthless waste of time. I dont miss it

      • Agreed. I have had people tell me that Instagram is less intrusive so they use that. I looked into it and the only way you can use it on a PC is to trick it into thinking your PC is a phone. When I saw that Instagram ‘needs’ access to my contacts list ‘to make the experience better’, and realized that FB owns it, I said no thanks.
        I had a FB account a few years ago and had one friend. After a while I was locked out because my acct, ‘may have been hacked’. But they had a solution! Send them a photocopy of my govt issued ID and all will be well.

        Delete the acct, I told them.

        • Kelly Rae Zimmerman | June 19, 2016 at 2:49 pm | Reply

          Amazing that these days you cannot hardly even buy anything at a store without providing a bunch of personal info. Went to Radio Shack to by a cheezy attenae to get local broadcast ’cause i dont want to sign a two year contract at 70 bucks a month so that i can watch two movies a month, they want my zip code. I told them i only wanted to buy the product, not fill in the blanks on your data base. The poor fool at the register could not figure out how to make a sale without it. I told him to just make one up and he looked at me like it was a criminal act. So i told him it 66666. Go get cigarettes at the gas station and the same person who sees me everyday and has for years has to ask me for my id and then pretend to look at it. I am over 50. Got tired of making jokes about all these intrusions to brain-dead clerks, so i just make stuff up. Garbage in, garbage out. All those tracking systems are only as good as the info you provide. My deceased wife just won ‘customer of the year’ from some clothing company. She has been dead over year;)
          I am still stuck with her phone as it was under contract. She alledgedly owes 300 dollars to the hospital that infected her with MRSA and caused her death… like i am gonna pay that. I put a message on the phone saying that she was unavailable due to the fact she was dead, but she will get back to you asap. They still call every week and leave messages. Man, idiocracy aint just a movie;)
          Use cash as much as possible while we still have it.

    • Certainly not. Two is a crowd!

  2. Kelly Rae Zimmerman | June 19, 2016 at 2:27 pm | Reply

    Lol Thats scary, though likely accurate. Dont think i will do thst tho…sounds reminicent of the time i read on tech discussion board that to fix my problem all i had to do was take one zero out of my registry and that would fix the problem with my windows 98. Goodbye computer, hello blue sceen of death;) I tried to re-insert it to no avail. Some people just got no business messing around in the bowels of thier computer. Give me a saw a board and some nails and i can give you art. Put me in the backend of a computer and disaster will soon follow. Here is me doing this: ok, what happens when i click this or change that? DOH’ Is best buy open this late?

  3. The global Elite who plot wars and the misery of nations, so they can take more of what does not belong to them find face book and all the other stupid social media rubbish, a very useful tool because they have super computers, that snoop on you, they can build up a profile of the people in a country, and it turn use this data to plan their next move, you see with such powerful tools they are one step ahead in this game of madness. Never publish yourself on media outlets unless you are in the business of entertainment or a business.

  4. DO NOT GET A FACEBOOK ACCOUNT. But if you already fell into that cyber-rathole, then
    DELETE YOUR FACEBOOK ACCOUNT. Problem(s) solved.

    I wish I could make this more complicated…but there it is, in pure form. Get rid of it.

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