Many of us feel like we’ve had this odd experience, wherein we mention something in a face-to-face conversation or phone call, and suddenly we see an advert for it on Facebook.
It does seem like Facebook is somehow listening in on our conversations, processing what we are saying, and then using that information to feed us with ads.
Many individuals claim to have seen related engagement adverts minutes after a discussion, or actually seeing adverts for stuff like cat food just after chatting about cats, or getting promotions for concerts and films while discussing it with someone.
Famous tech consultant Damian Le Nouaille has gone so far as to claim Instagram, owned by Facebook, is quietly listening to him in multiple languages, and then showing him adverts in English even though he spoke about certain products in French or Spanish. There have also been some reports which tell us that we have been seeing these adverts before any posts about the topic, and without having searched or browsed for it before as well.
Surely this could not be mere coincidence. The only possible conclusion is that Facebook and Instagram are listening to us.
However, Facebook has repeatedly denied eavesdropping on conversations through the phone’s microphone, stating explicitly that the company is not using phone microphones to listen to your conversations.
The statement by Facebook read “Many articles have suggested that we must be listening to people’s conversations so as to give them ads. This is not true. We are only showing ads which is actually based on what people’s interests are and other profile information – not what you’re talking out loud about.”
On both Android and iOS, both Facebook and Instagram use the phone’s microphone only after the user has explicitly given the apps permission.
The main reason for this is because so it needs to record videos, such as Facebook Live or Instagram Stories. As it so happens Facebook also has a feature in the US, which it has not introduced elsewhere, that will continue to listen to background music or movies so you can add what you are listening to or watching to a status update.
They say this feature is only activated when a person has the app open and is typing in a status update. Facebook has always denied it is used for listening to conversations and that it has not tagged your profile with the data, and is only using it in order to build up a chart of the most listened songs.
The question still remains if Facebook or Instagram be surreptitiously listening to you and not tell anyone about it. Frighteningly, in theory, it is actually possible. iPhone apps have the ability to turn on the microphone at any time without informing you, as a researcher pointed out last week.