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article imageFacebook might be monitoring everything you say using your phone

By James Walker     Jun 2, 2016 in Technology
Facebook's mobile app could be continually recording your conversations with other people using your phone's microphone, an expert has claimed. The company is allegedly using the data to tailor advertisements to you based on your interests.
The Independent reports that attention was drawn to the feature, introduced a couple of years ago, by Kelli Burns, mass communication professor at the University of South Florida. Facebook's mobile app does listen to device microphones, as the company freely admits. It says it uses the data to help users get more from its app though, without redirecting it for advertising purposes.
Facebook's mobile app collects audio information so it can work out what is going on around you. If it identifies a song or video that is being played, it allows you to post about it quickly from within the app. When you start writing a status update, a small soundwave icon will appear. You can tap it to immediately include the name of the identified media in your post.
Burns suggested the information could be used for more aggressive purposes than it is willing to admit. She believes the app has been listening to her conversations and using them to inspire the advertising it displays in her news feed.
After discussing certain topics around the phone, Burns said the app then appeared to display adverts related to them. Burns did not disclose which topics she discussed and admitted she also searched for the items she had been talking about. It's circumstantial evidence at best but other, uncited, reports online apparently corroborate Burns' experiences.
Facebook denied it uses microphones to target advertising to users. "Facebook does not use microphone audio to inform advertising or News Feed stories in any way," a spokesperson told The Independent. "Businesses are able to serve relevant ads based on people's interests and other demographic information, but not through audio collection."
This isn't the first time Facebook has come under fire for the feature. When it was introduced in 2014, the company was criticised for snooping on users and automatically listening in on people when they start to write a status update. Facebook maintains that audio data never leaves phones and isn't sent to its servers. "The user is in complete control," the company said at its launch.
The feature is supposed to be opt-in and enabled only when a user turns it on. The behaviour may have changed though. Because Facebook now receives microphone permissions by default, it could be turned on without users knowing. It can be disabled in the settings menu of Facebook's iOS and Android app. You can stop Facebook accessing your microphone at all from within your phone's system settings. It is currently available only to U.S. users.
Without any further evidence, Burns' claims remain unsubstantiated. She admitted her testing was flawed and Facebook does not appear to have changed the feature since its introduction in 2014. However, without firm proof either way, it's probably a good idea to disable it if you don't want Facebook to overhear things you'd rather it didn't know about.
More about Facebook, Social media, Social network, Smartphones, Audio
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