The hits just keep on coming against Facebook, as the social media giant is rapidly becoming a most despised and distrusted corporation.
Facebook angered a lot of conservatives when it recently became apparent that their algorithms seem to be suppressing conservative content from user news feeds.
Liberals also became incensed with the corporation when it was revealed that they had shared user data with outside third parties, one of whom may have used that data to assist the Trump campaign in targeting voters during the 2016 election.
Most recently it was alleged that Facebook had previously been collecting and storing phone call and text message metadata from Android device users, information they would seemingly have little use for, which raised privacy concerns.
Privacy concerns would appear to be a running theme when it comes to Facebook, as PJ Media just reported on testimony from a whistleblower who used to work with Cambridge Analytica — the same third party alleged to have aided the Trump campaign — who asserted that the social media platform has the capability to spy on users by way of the microphone on their mobile device or laptop computer.
Former Cambridge Analytica employee Christopher Wylie testified on Tuesday before a British Parliament committee on the alleged involvement of the company in the 2016 Brexit vote, and Wylie was asked if Facebook was able to listen to what users were talking about — even when not using the app — to better target them with advertisements.
Wylie seemed to indicate that Facebook did indeed have the ability to listen to users through the microphone on their device, but believed that capability was utilized for “environmental context” — as in, whether someone was indoors or outside, at work or at home — and not to listen in on specific words or conversations.
To be sure, this theory of Facebook being able to listen in on users is not new and has been raised, and vehemently denied by Facebook, several times in the past.
Indeed, Facebook’s vice president of ads products, Rob Goldman, tweeted on Oct. 2017, “I run ads product at Facebook. We don’t – and have never – used your microphone for ads. Just not true.”
But that denial, and others like it, haven’t been accepted by everybody as there are plenty of anecdotal accounts of users relating how they were speaking out loud about something — sometimes while using the social media platform, other times not — only to find specific ads related to their topic of conversation in their news feeds shortly thereafter.
In Nov. 2017, Mashable reported on the rumors that Facebook was listening in on users through their device microphones.
That piece went on to note how iPhone and Android users could disable Facebook’s access to the device microphone through the settings, but also noted that some people had gone so far as to tape over the microphone or attach an external microphone to the headphone jack with the actual microphone part cut off.
And of course, there is always the option of deleting the app altogether.
As for the tape method, while that may not be a foolproof way to render an internal microphone inoperative (it will in effect only muffle the received sound), Business Insider recalled a picture of Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg from a few years ago that has raised questions in light of recent revelations.
Zuckerberg had posted a picture of himself at his workstation in celebration of Instagram reaching 500 million users in 2016, but it was his laptop seen in the background which garnered all of the attention, as it appeared he had placed tape over both the camera and microphone jack on the Macbook.
Whether Facebook is listening to users’ conversations for keywords to better target them with ads, or are simply seeking “environmental context” as stated by Wylie, remains unclear. But Facebook’s repeated denials — especially paired with Zuckerberg’s own privacy-protecting efforts — seem less than believable at this point, given what we have come to know about their data collection and lax protection of user privacy.
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