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Is Facebook Using Smartphone Microphones to Eavesdrop? This is One Crazy Social Media Conspiracy Theory to Be Disproved.

( [email protected] ) Jun 06, 2016 10:54 AM EDT
When we recently reported on what Jaron Lanier talked about on Virtual Reality, he feared that those companies like Facebook, owner of the popular Oculus Rift VR headset, would soon study people's VR habits and target advertising for their users.  You might think that sounds bad, and here's something that is much worse.  There has been recent speculation that Facebook is using the microphone on your smartphone to spy on you, so they can target sponsors.
Facebook Eavesdropping using Smartphone Mics? Getty Images

When we recently reported on what Jaron Lanier talked about on Virtual Reality, he feared that those companies like Facebook, owner of the popular Oculus Rift VR headset, would soon study people's VR habits and target advertising for their users.  You might think that sounds bad, and here's something that is much worse.  There has been recent speculation that Facebook is using the microphone on your smartphone to spy on you, so they can target sponsors. 

According to the Express Tribune, mass communications Professor Kelli Burns of the University of South Florida said that Facebook is eavesdropping on your conversations using microphones in your smartphone.  Facebook denied the reports saying, "Facebook does not use your phone's microphone to inform ads or to change what you see in News Feed". 

The social media giant even clarified that Facebook does not listen to people's conversations in order to show them relevant ads, but it shows people ads based on people's interest and profile information.  As far as when Facebook accesses the microphone in a user's smartphone, it is only if the user gives permission.  With that permission, that audio is used only if the user is actively using a specific feature that requires audio, such as recording a video, or the optional feature of including music or audio on status updates. 

However, Facebook has said that the app will listen to whatever is happening around it, but only as a way of seeing what people are listening to or watching and suggesting that they post about it.  In fact, Kelli Burns discussed certain topics around the phone and found that Facebook appeared to show relevant ads. 

Of course, it doesn't really take long for people to make a big thing out of a small thing, and this news has already appeared on Snopes, the famed website to disprove urban legends.  If you want to rescind permission for the Facebook app to access their microphones, just go to Settings > Apps > Facebook > App Permissions and turn off the Facebook app's access to the microphone.  Once that is done, Facebook can't turn on your microphone even if they wanted to. 

The biggest irony of this particular rumor about Facebook is it sounds like something that I would have heard about on Facebook.  Of course, there might be a reason why you haven't heard any of this news on Facebook, and that is because "they" don't want you to know.  Yes, that is getting into conspiracy theories really deep with that assumption. 

It certainly has made me more aware about all of those sponsored posts that I see on Facebook, and I'm going to double-check to see if those sponsored posts are related to anything that I have been talking about on my phone lately.