While George Orwell forewarned that 'Big Brother is watching you', he forgot to mention it would be listening in as well.
As you tap about on your Facebook app, you might be providing the social media giant an ear to every conversation you hold while browsing cappuccino art and unfollowing baby photo posters.
Facebook openly admits that its app can use your phone's microphone to listen to your surroundings in order to suggest posts about certain activities if it picks up on something relevant: say you're listening to music or watching a TV show, Facebook might recognise a sequence of audio and suggest a post about it.
The feature was launched several years ago in the US, sending the wider web into a spin over privacy concerns. The feature has gained new focus after Kelli Burns, Professor of Mass Communications at the University of South Florida, began testing out whether the audio function would influence other aspects of her Facebook experience, such as advertising.
In a demonstration with NBC News, Burns engaged the microphone function and said aloud: "I’m really interested in going on an African safari. I think it’d be wonderful to ride in one of those jeeps." In the minutes following the announcement, Facebook pushed a safari-related post to the top of her feed, while a car ad also appeared in her feed.
Burns was quick to suggest the post could have been coincidental, and that it might have been related to searches she had already carried out on her phone (which is still pretty creepy).
The evidence of her 'test' runs counter to what Facebook claims it does and doesn't do with information gathered via a smartphone's microphone.
"Facebook does not use microphone audio to inform advertising or News Feed stories in any way," a spokesperson told The Independent. "Businesses are able to serve relevant ads based on people’s interests and other demographic information, but not through audio collection."
The audio feature is yet to arrive in the UK - but when it does, you can bet we'll be turning it off, and keeping our phone locked in a concrete bunker when it rolls around to pay day. We don't need any help spending our money.
[Via: The Independent]