Facebook has yet again had to go on record to deny snooping allegations – this time around eavesdropping on mobile users’ phone calls.
Upon downloading the Facebook app to their smartphones, users have to permit the app access to their microphone (among numerous other features). The social network has long claimed this is for recording voice and video messages, but new allegations suggest that something more sinister could be at play – that Facebook is actually listening in on phone calls.
University of South Florida professor Kelli Burns was thought to be one of the sceptics, after a news story went viral in which she recounted speaking to a friend about a safari. Then, after opening Facebook, Burns’ first item on her news feed was a story about a safari shared by one of her friends. More recently, however, Burns has denied the claim, saying that the post in question had a great deal of engagement from her friends, so there was every reason for it to appear at the top of her feed.
Flat denial that recordings are used to influence ads
Some commentators have noted the coincidental nature of Burns’ story, though others have claimed it’s only a small jump from Facebook’s ‘background listening’ feature to fully eavesdropping on conversations. This feature, which has long troubled social media users, listens to background noises when users elect to post a status update. It can then identify the song, film or TV programme being played, which can then be added to the status, provided the user wishes it so. With Facebook already listening in when statuses are being updated, the sceptics claim, it’s no giant leap for it to be listening in all of the time.
Denying these most recent allegations, a spokesperson wrote on newsroom.fb.com: “Facebook does not use your phone’s microphone to inform ads or change what you see in News Feed. Some recent articles have suggested that we must be listening to people’s conversations in order to show them relevant ads. This is not true. We show ads based on people’s interests and other profile information – not what you’re talking out loud about.”