Facebook could be listening in on people’s conversations all of the time, an expert has claimed.
The app might be using people’s phones to gather data on what they are talking about, it has been claimed.
Facebook says that its app does listen to what’s happening around it, but only as a way of seeing what people are listening to or watching and suggesting that they post about it.
The feature has been available for a couple of years, but recent warnings from Kelli Burns, mass communication professor at the University of South Florida, have drawn attention to it.
Professor Burns has said that the tool appears to be using the audio it gathers not simply to help out users, but might be doing so to listen in to discussions and serve them with relevant advertising. She says that to test the feature, she discussed certain topics around the phone and then found that the site appeared to show relevant ads.
Though Professor Burns said she was not convinced that Facebook is listening in on conversations – it may have been that she was searching for the same things that she chose to discuss around the phone – but she said that it wouldn’t be a surprising move from the site.
The claim chimes with anecdotal reports online that the site appears to show ads for things that people have mentioned in passing.
Facebook said that it does listen to audio and collect information from users – but that the two aren’t combined, and that sounds heard around people aren’t used to decide what appears in the app.
“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.”
At the moment, the feature is only available in the US.
When it was first introduced, in 2014, Facebook responded to controversy by arguing that the phone isn’t “always listening” and that it never stores the “raw audio” when it is listening.
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