Business Technology

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Facebook wants to know what you're watching by listening through your smartphone

Published 28/05/2014 | 12:46

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Apple is refunding millions of pounds to parents who unwittingly paid for games played by their children on mobile devices
Apple is refunding millions of pounds to parents who unwittingly paid for games played by their children on mobile devices

Facebook wants to add a feature that uses your phone’s microphone to listen to your surroundings and add data about the music or TV you might have on using audio clues.

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“That means if you want to share that you’re listening to your favorite Beyoncé track or watching the season premiere of Game of Thrones, you can do it quickly and easily, without typing,” said Facebook in a blog post announcing the changes.

“If you’ve turned the feature on, you’ll see an audio icon moving on the screen when you write a status update. If the feature finds a match, you can then choose to add the song, TV show or movie to your post.”

The functionality will be familiar to anyone whose used Shazam or other music-recognition apps, and Facebook have stressed that “sounds are only used to find a match and are never stored” and that the feature (coming in the next couple of weeks) is optional.

However, the company does have a habit of quietly making optional features mandatory (as it did with offering users the choice to hide their profiles from Facebook’s internal search) and some users might be uncomfortable with the transition of audio-recognition apps from an active choice (‘what song is this?’) to a passive state (‘I’ll say I’m listening to this – my phone will know what it is’).

For some though, the most worrying aspect of the update will be the most banal: the feature is designed to allow exactly the sort of “frictionless” sharing that removes another layer of thought between you and your social network.

Just as the speed of phone cameras and apps made it the norm to snap a picture of your lunch, Facebook will be hoping that this listening feature makes it even easier to broadcast exactly what bit of pop culture you’re consuming at any given time.

Interestingly, Facebook announced the new feature alongside the news that it was changing its default privacy settings for new users from ‘Public’ to ‘Friends’; two news snippets that taken together neatly summarise ­the social network’s conflicted attitude to privacy and sharing.

While Facebook is doing it's best to retain users' trust by making the moment we share as conscious as possible, it's also fighting to enlarge the range of information we're comfortable with sharing in the first place. Can it really have it both ways?

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