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This is regarding a recent comment I came across on Reddit:

wanna get really freaked out? If you have Facebook on your phone try closing all the programs, then leave your phone near a radio/tv that is broadcasting in a different language overnight. I dare you. The next day, all of your facebook advertisements will be in that language. fucking scary, Facebook IS big brother.

still don't believe? https://np.reddit.com/r/jailbreak/comments/3nxjwt/discussion_facebook_listening_to_conversations/

http://www.forbes.com/sites/kashmirhill/2014/05/22/facebook-wants-to-listen-in-on-what-youre-doing/#269a3e90336b

a lot of people are missing my point, app or not this business is taking advantage of our sense of security, that's bad practice, indicative of a disgusting level of carelessness with private personal information. Specifically Facebook has given us no reason to trust them.

The /r/jailbreak link contains an unsubstantiated anecdote of Facebook giving Spanish adverts after being next to a radio.

The Forbes article link is about an announcement:

Facebook is rolling out a new feature for its smartphone app that can turn on users’ microphones and listen to what’s happening around them to identify songs playing or television being watched. The pay-off for users in allowing Facebook to microphone-lurk is that the social giant will be able to add a little tag to their status update that says they’re watching an episode of Games of Thrones as they sound off on their happiness (or despair) about the rise in background sex on TV these days.

  • 1
    Welcome to Skeptics! Note that the claim - explained in the Forbes article - does not necessarily mean that people at Facebook HQ can listen to you and hear what you are saying. "Merely" that your phone can recognise what music is playing in the background, and the name of the music could be sent back to HQ. I speculate it is a small step for advertisers to target their (Spanish-language) adverts to people who have the theme song to a Spanish-language soap opera playing. – Oddthinking Mar 10 '16 at 23:37
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    This doesn't mention which operating system this is for. As an app developer I can tell you that different OS's have different permissions models. But when you install an app on any OS you give specific permissions for various features- the app won't have access to that feature without permission. So if the app doesn't use microphone permissions, it doesn't have access to your mic. – PointlessSpike Mar 11 '16 at 15:04
  • Might want to make your title a little less specific. Facebook man or man not listen to its users, but it never listens to ME because I don't have a Facebook account, and wouldn't access it through a phone if I did. (And I have no microphone or speakers on my computers...) – jamesqf Mar 11 '16 at 17:55
9

Referring to the head of Facebook's US-based Security Infrastructure team Gregg Stefancik,

  1. User consent is needed for activating the smartphone's microphone for audio recognition.

"First and foremost, the feature is opt-in for users," he said. "We're not doing it without the user consent." According to Stefancik, the app creates an "audio fingerprint" from the smartphone-recorded sound (a process which cannot be reversed) and this fingerprint is matched to Facebook's database of songs and television shows. Source: CNET

  1. The mobile app does not possess a feature of being automatically turning on without permission or being always on recording your every day sounds.

Importantly, Stefancik added that it was not an 'always-on' feature. "The microphone doesn't turn itself on, it will ask for permission," he said. "It's not always listening... so it's very limited in what it is sampling. "I wouldn't want this in my pocket either if it was recording everything going on around me." Source: CNET

  1. The match is not connected to the profile if it is posted nor is the audio finger print data stored for future data mining. The application is similar to the music identification services such as Bing Audio and Shazam.

According to Stefancik, the app creates an "audio fingerprint" from the smartphone-recorded sound (a process which cannot be reversed) and this fingerprint is matched to Facebook's database of songs and television shows. "If there's a match, we return what the match is to the user [and] give them the option of posting the match. The user is in complete control and the audio fingerprint that we've received is disposed of immediately. The raw audio never leaves the phone and the data about the match is only stored if you choose to post it." Source: CNET

  1. However, the details are used for updating or preparing charts of the top viewed music videos or TV shows and audio songs.

A Facebook spokesperson has clarified details on how data is stored. "If we find a match and you don't post, we log that a particular song or TV show was matched, but we don't connect this with your profile in any way," the spokesperson said. "We use this to keep a chart of the most watched and listened to songs and TV shows." Source: CNET

  • What I would like to know is: Is there a limit of the number of audio fingerprints calculated and/or sent per user authentication? What is that limit if any? If a user repetitively authenticated the capture and submission of audio fingerprints and never posted any resulting content, would their tailored user experience on the social network be completely unaffected? – Andy Gee Mar 21 '16 at 19:20

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