Facebook recording rumours dismissed by company, which says it only listens for 'specific features'

The site has publicly addressed rumours that it was listening on in people's conversations and then analysing them to better send ads

Andrew Griffin
Monday 06 June 2016 10:42 BST
A 'Like' sign stands at the entrance to Facebook HQ in Menlo Park, California
A 'Like' sign stands at the entrance to Facebook HQ in Menlo Park, California (Getty)

Facebook has officially denied that it listens in on people’s conversations, saying that it only uses its access to people’s microphones for advertised features.

The site has looked to shut down rumours that it can listen through people’s microphones to better target advertising based on what people are talking about. It has said that it only uses the microphone for features that require it, and that it only serves ads based on other use of Facebook.

The suggestion that Facebook might be listening was boosted last week but had been indicated in anecdotal reports for years. But the site has denied those rumours.

“Facebook does not use your phone’s microphone to inform ads or to change what you see in News Feed,” a blog post published on 2 June said. “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.

The site pointed out that as with all apps, it asks for access to a phone’s microphone so that it can hear through it whether or not the app is open on the phone’s screen. But it only uses that permission for specific features, it wrote.

“We only access your microphone if you have given our app permission and if you are actively using a specific feature that requires audio,” the site wrote. “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.”

Those same permissions offer an easy way for people to turn off their microphone for Facebook or any other app, if they are worried about intrusion. That will break some features but will mean that apps are stopped from hearing anything, since microphone access is turned off at the level of the operating system.

Facebook’s access to the microphone can be revoked by heading to the privacy settings on iOS or Android and changing the permissions that the app – or any other – is given.

A statement to The Independent last week from Facebook said much the same. It said that while businesses “are able to serve relevant ads based on people’s interests and other demographic information”, they can’t do that “through audio collection”.

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