Facebook spies on users because they can listen to their conversations using the microphone?
You are scrolling through your Facebook feed or browsing a site and it is there staring at you: the advertising of that item you have randomly mentioned in a conversation with a friend.
It happened to me too: I was talking about the fact that I had to buy spare parts for the bike and shortly after I received a promotional email from a site that sells bicycle accessories.
Ok, it’s a pure coincidence, I thought, even if rather disturbing. In fact I have discovered that half the world, for years, is convinced that the smartphone spies on us listening to our phone calls.
The Menlo Park giant has said it is not true, but the suspicion that smart devices can intercept us to collect our data and convey advertising is now an idea rooted in the people of the internet.
Facebook listens to us from the microphone? The word to the experts
The reports of users convinced that Facebook spying through listening to the phone calls are many. Let’s think for example to the Texan boy who told in 2015 that, after discussing with his girlfriend about the need to disinfect his apartment from the ants, he went to Facebook where he was on the bulletin board an advertising banner of a disinfestation company.
According to John Pracejus, professor of the Alberta School of Business and marketing and communication expert, people today underestimate the degree of monitoring of their online activities, and one day the tech giants will have algorithms that can accurately predict what we might think or what we will talk about.
“They know so many things about you that they can even guess what you’re thinking without necessarily having to listen to your conversations,” said Pracejus. But he has the feeling that there is something else. “Another possibility is that they are actually listening to you. Smart TVs, telephones, voice activated homepods can hear us and we do not know how much of this is recorded, transcribed, stored or used for advertising purposes “.
Facebook defends itself: “It’s not true”
Accused over and over again to violate the privacy of users in this sense, Facebook defended itself by denying any possibility that origli conversations and phone calls of people to direct the ads and change the contents of the newsfeed. Google has instead admitted to read emails to personalize ads, promising in July 2017 that it would stop doing so by the end of the year.
“Some articles have suggested that we listen to user conversations to show them relevant ads. This is not true: we show ads based on people’s interests and profile information, not what is said by speaking aloud. Facebook advertisers can target users by age, location, interests, and behaviors, including using the device. “
The company, which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp, claims not to access the microphone of a device except in cases where the user grants permission to the app and when actively using a specific function that requires audio.
But that does not mean that Facebook and other apps do not listen to what’s happening around us through the microphone. An article published in December 2017 in the New York Times states that there are hundreds of gaming apps that use the software of a company called Alphonso that uses the access to the microphone of our device. Using the smartphone microphone the software can know what the user is watching on TV or on the display. This information can then be used to target advertising more accurately and analyze things such as ads that have convinced a person to buy a new car or a new pair of shoes.
And then there are all those smart devices like Amazon’s Alexa designed to literally listen to us. According to Bloomberg, Facebook plans to launch a similar product with video chat and digital assistant functionality, but has decided to postpone its release due to the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
So there is a real danger that Facebook can listen to us and violate our privacy? At the present time we can neither confirm nor deny because there have been no leaks from inside the companies. And certainly we do not expect confirmation from those directly affected because it would break a scandal of epic dimensions.
When in doubt, let’s remember to close the Facebook app and other potentially spying platforms by logging out when we do not use them (and when we’re talking about top secret stuff).
How to disable microphone access on iPhone and Android
On iPhones with iOS 11 or later, go to Settings> Privacy> Microphone, then scroll to turn off any app’s access to your microphone.
For Android phones running on Oreo 8.0 or later, open your smartphone Settings> Apps and notifications> App info -> App authorization. From there, you can revoke an app’s access to your phone’s microphone.