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Is Facebook Listening To Me?

Profile image for Tom Crewe

It happened once and they said I was mad, but when it happened TWICE, well, they still said I was mad, but it was enough to convince me that the Facebook App on my iPhone had been listening to my conversations in order to serve me relevant adverts.

I certainly may have looked like a tin-foil-hat-wearing-conspiracist when I jumped out of my chair in the Adido office and started claiming that Facebook had been listening to me, but if you hear me out you might just be convinced yourself…

is facebook listening to me

One fine day a few months ago, I was casually joking around with Shock N’ Awe Welterweight Champion and PPC Executive, Andy Kerr, about the fact that we struggle to grow strong, manly beards. During the conversation, I suggested that “we should get beard transplants”.

I had my Facebook App open at the time and after a few minutes I started scrolling through the News Feed, only to find a Facebook Ad for hair and beard transplants! Now I can assure you, I have never Googled, searched on Facebook, emailed or texted anyone about beard or hair transplants, so it instantly caught my eye as I had just recently made the beard transplant joke – and how often do you really see an ad for a beard transplant!? (Unfortunately I do not have a screenshot of this ad).

After vocalising my findings to the rest of the Adido gang, I was met with some intrigue as well as a lot of ridicule from the ‘non believers’. In my eyes, this was proof enough that Facebook must have overheard my conversation and served me the ad because of what I had said, but I decided to drop it and try to forget the whole ordeal.

But then it happened again. A few weeks after the initial incident, I started having a mid-morning snack of a Peperami every day (yes it’s a pretty weird mid-morning snack but that’s for another blog). On one such occasion, Anni teased me about my choice of snack and we proceeded to have a conversation about what a strange snack the Peperami was to have at that time of day.

Once again, I assure you I have never Googled, Facebooked, bought online or messaged anyone about a Peperami. But Facebook didn’t need me to, did they? Because they overheard me talking to Anni about Peperamis while my Facebook App was open and you can guess what happened next; a Peperami ad!

Again, and perhaps foolishly after the response I got last time, I vocalised my findings. But with two incidents of Facebook eavesdropping within a matter of weeks, people were starting to believe me, and after a little research, it seems that I’m not the only one who thinks Facebook is serving us ads based on our conversations.

Professor (yes, an actual professor) of Mass Communications at the University of South Florida, Kelli Burns, suggested that the App uses the audio it gathers through your phone’s microphone to serve you relevant advertising. She even tested the feature and found that certain topics she discussed were then advertised to her later on. I must add that she is not entirely convinced that Facebook is doing this, but it certainly caught her attention.

A spokesperson for Facebook, when asked by The Independent, had this to say; “Facebook does not use microphone audio to inform advertising or News Feed stories in any way. Businesses are able to serve relevant ads based on people’s interests and other demographic information, but not through audio collection”. They go on to say that Facebook will only access the microphone if you have given the app permission to do so and are using a feature which requires audio, such as recording a Facebook Live video.

However, Facebook does state that the app is listening to what’s happening around it so that it can make suggestions to the user on what they should post about (e.g. the television program they are watching). This feature is apparently only available in the US at the moment. I don’t know about you, but the fact that Facebook admits to being able to use the microphone to collect audio, “but only for the good of the people”, sounds a bit off to me!

If you want to deny Facebook any access to your microphone, you can do this through your phone’s settings. This will vary for each phone and software, so if you can’t find it straight away in your privacy settings or the Facebook app settings, try Googling it!

I’m certainly not the first to make these claims and I don’t think I’ll be the last. So what do you think? Have you ever experienced a Facebook eavesdropping ad? If so, head over to our Twitter (or Facebook, if you dare) and share your experience with us! 

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