Yes, Facebook is listening in on the conversations you have when your phone is nearby and the app is open. It’s not for advertising purposes, the company claims. Instead, it simply wants to help you post easier and faster, about the kind of content you might be consuming, as Facebook is hunting for the background noise to identify TV shows or music.
Can it be stopped? Yes, it can. You can restrict Facebook’s access to the iPhone or Android device’s microphone in order to limit its reach.
Facebook doesn’t deny that it’s accessing the microphone of your phone. It’s a known feature of the social network, at least for US-based users.
But one expert told The Independent that Facebook might be listening in on your conversations all the time. University of South Florida’s Kelli Burns says that Facebook may have used information obtained from discussions she had near her smartphone to target her with advertising. She says the phone Facebook showed ads that matched the topics she discussed – though the professor did admit she may have been searching for the same things she chose to talk about near the phone, so Facebook might not be listening at all times.
Facebook, meanwhile denied the claims. “Facebook does not use microphone audio to inform advertising or News Feed stories in any way,” a Facebook spokesperson told The Independent. “Businesses can serve relevant ads based on people’s interests and other demographic information, but not through audio collection.”
The company also says that raw data from your conversations isn’t stored on its servers.
The feature was introduced in 2014, targeting only US users. Turning it off is not only possible, but advisable. On an iPhone simply head to the Settings app, then go to Privacy followed by Microphone, where you can revoke Facebook’s access to the mic. Similarly, on Android you can head to Settings, then Privacy and change the permissions the Facebook app is given so that it can’t access microphone data.