Facebook Once Again Forced To React To Rumors It's Eavesdropping On You


Perception can be more powerful than reality, and right now there is a strong perception that Facebook spies on its users, even going so far as to listen in on conversations using a device's microphone. But is that really the case? The answer is no, according to Facebook—Rob Goldman, the social network's vice president of advertising, felt compelled to announce on Twitter that Facebook does not, and never has, leveraged microphones for ads.

Goldman's post was in reply to a tweet by PJ Vogt, who hosts a technology podcast called Reply All. Vogt put out a feeler on Twitter asking for people with stories to share about Facebook using their microphones for ads, to call into the program and share their experience. That tweet got the attention of Goldman, who decided to set the record straight by saying that has never been the case.
Despite Vogt's denial, there are many users who feel this is something that happens. Alex Goldman (no relation to Rob Goldman), who runs the Reply All podcast, commented that he does not believe Facebook is eavesdropping on its users, "but a number of our listeners called yesterday with stories that are hard to dismiss."

Assuming Facebook does not actually listen to conversations and then use that information to deliver targeted ads to its users, the paranoia is understandable. After all, Facebook is the largest social playground on the planet, and it does make an attempt to post ads that it thinks users will be interested in. You may have noticed that when you search for something on the web, a related ad shows up on Facebook. Anecdotally, I once emailed my co-workers saying something to the effect of, "I'm sick and feel like the Mucinex man barfed in my nose." The next time I loaded up Facebook, there was a Mucinex ad.

On top of that, Facebook does actually use some audio recognition features. It can identify and share songs that you are listening to, if you allow it. So the base technology is there, though it is questionable whether Facebook could parse spoken conversations into targeted ads. As it relates to song recognition, Facebook addresses the topic of spying on its page describing the feature.

"No, we don't record your conversations. If you choose to turn on song identification, we'll only use your phone's microphone to try to identify the song you're listening to based on the music we're able to identify. If song identification is turned on, it's only active if you tap when writing a post and only for the limited time period when you are writing the post," Facebook explains.

Here's the thing—Facebook would be in a heap of trouble if it was caught spying on conversations, for ads or anything else, without consent. That is the sort of thing that can ruin a business, even one as big as Facebook. Would Facebook really take that risk? It is doubtful, but again, that is the perception Facebook must deal with.

"A co-worker got an ad saying, 'So you popped the question!' minutes after he proposed, before he told anyone it had happened," Tori Hoover wrote on Twitter.

Many people are convinced that Facebook is listening, and a Twitter post claiming otherwise probably is not enough to convince them otherwise.

Thumbnail Image Source: Flickr (Brian Solis)