No, Facebook Is Not Listening To Your Conversations But Here's Why It Seems Like It
Facebook is definitely tracking us in ways that allow it to deliver targeted advertising, and in some instances, it feels like the social network is granting itself a frighteningly large amount of access to our daily lives. Be that as it may, Facebook is not listening to our conversations and then hitting us with related ads. Instead, there are alternate explanations as to why it seems as thought Facebook listens to our verbal communications.
Don't believe it? Just ask Facebook, which swears it is not listening to you (scout's honor and all that jazz).
"Facebook does not use your phone’s microphone to inform ads or to 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," Facebook said earlier this month.
"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," Facebook added.
Whether you choose to believe Facebook is another matter entirely, especially when there are so many anecdotal incidents of the social network delivering ads related to recent verbal conversations. So, what gives?
Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog, told USA Today that Facebook wrangles "all sorts of circumstantial evidence" for targeted ads that make it appear as though it had been listening to you. Court likens it to "stalking," but in a digital sense with sophisticated algorithms.
There is a lot more at play here than just tracking cookies and analyzing posts you interact with on Facebook. The company's algorithm can parse data to see who you have been hanging out with, then compare demographics such as age and relation, and the types of posts you might have made while hanging out with a friend.
“The FB AI engine can determine intent from textual and visual material you provide," tech industry veteran Phil Lieberman added. "With intent, they can find product and services that you might be interested in. This is all about 'recommender systems' similar to what Amazon offers, but FB has more information on an ongoing basis to determine what you might be interested in buying."
In other words, there is an intense amount of tracking at play—everything from photos and videos, to hashtags and even payment information. This does not just happen on Facebook, but on sites and apps that have a Facebook plugin or widget.
It is not hard to believe that Facebook's algorithm is so advanced that it can make it seem like the social network is actually listening to us. Facebook is a major tech company with vast resources having been poured into artificial intelligence and machine learning. Some of it is used to make Facebook a better platform, but also an elite tracker.