Tuesday 21 November 2017

Facebook denies eavesdropping on users' phone calls

The Facebook office will be powered entirely by wind energy Photo: AFP/Getty Images
The Facebook office will be powered entirely by wind energy Photo: AFP/Getty Images

James Titcomb

Facebook has denied that it is listening to users’ phone calls through their smartphone’s microphones, after suggestions that the company is eavesdropping on conversations to target adverts.

The social network’s smartphone app asks for access to a phone’s microphone for features such as recording video and voice messages, but reports last week claimed that its use of the microphone was more sinister.

Kelli Burns, a professor at the University of South Florida, reportedly said that Facebook could be listening to conversations to target people. She said that after a conversation about a safari, the first post on her Facebook feed was a news story shared by a friend about a safari.

The claims sparked fears that by giving Facebook access to the microphone, users are letting it know more about them than Facebook lets on.

Facebook has denied the claims, insisting it only uses the microphone in very specific circumstances. One of these is a background listening feature, only available in the US, that can detect what songs and TV shows are playing and is activated when somebody begins to type a status update.

“Facebook does not use your phone’s microphone to inform ads or to change what you see in News Feed,” the company said.

“Some recent articles have suggested that we must be listening to people’s conversations in order to show them relevant ads. This is not true. We show ads based on people’s interests and other profile information – not what you’re talking out loud about.”

Professor Burns has since denied that she believes Facebook is eavesdropping on conversations, and that she never claims to have done so.

"Nowhere have I heard anything about Facebook serving you your friends' posts based on what you are saying or Googling… I am not a scientist or a privacy expert - but I never said in that story that I believe Facebook can hear you,” she told the BBC.

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