Have you been on your computer and seen an ad for the brand of shoes you were just talking about with your coworker? Or seen a link to a special sale that Home Depot is having minutes after you heard about it on your radio?
Coincidence? Maybe not.
Recent reports suggest that this information is being gathered in the sneakiest way. And it all has to do with a certain app that we all use multiple times a day, every day.
We’re talking about the Facebook app, specifically its always-listening feature.
According to Kelli Burns, a mass communication professor at the University of South Florida, not only is Facebook gathering information from you based on the conversations you’re having, it’s showing you ads for products related to what you were talking about.
“The tool appears to be using the audio it gathers not simply to help out users, but to listen in to discussions and serve them with relevant advertising,” Burns explained. In an effort to prove her theory, Burns would talk about certain topics with her phone nearby and then observe that ads related to her conversations would appear on her Facebook News Feed.
The Facebook help page explains that it does use audio to identify activity occurring around your phone. They say it does so to make it easier to post about whatever is happening, almost as if it’s providing a service to its users.
If the feature is activated, you will see a little face with soundwaves around its head that will appear in the field of the status update when you’re about to write a new post. That is how you’ll know the app is identifying what it’s hearing.
If this is concerning you, don’t panic, there is a way to stop it. It involves turning off your microphone settings in the app itself. This will prevent the Facebook app from gathering any more information.
For iPhone users: Go to Settings >> Facebook >> Settings >> slide the Microphone switch to the left so it turns from green to white, that turns it off.
For Android users: Go to Settings >> Privacy >> change the permissions in the Facebook app. Note: If this doesn’t work, contact your cellphone carrier for help.
Facebook, of course, denies these claims and has issued the following statement:
“Facebook does not use your phone’s microphone to inform ads or to change what you see in News Feed…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.”