Facebook Says It's Definitely Not Listening to Your Phone's Microphone to Target You With Ads

Image: Getty
Image: Getty

Facebook wants you all to know that it’s not listening to your microphone to covertly sell you ads, nope, no way, nuh-uh, no siree, no way!


In a blog post published Thursday, Facebook rushed to assure users that it is not, in fact, secretly listening to everything they say through their phone’s microphone. The pledge comes in response to recent reports that claimed pretty much the opposite—that Facebook could be using background conversations to present users with relevant ads. The theory came from Kelli Burns, a professor of mass communication at the University of South Florida, whom the Independent reported had tested the feature by talking about topics within earshot of her phone, and was then shown related ads on Facebook.

Facebook, however, dismissed the accusations outright.

“Facebook does not use your phone’s microphone to inform ads or to change what you see in News Feed,” the company wrote. It claims that it can sometimes access a user’s microphone, but only if the user explicitly gives it permission to.

The link between conversations and targeted ads has popped up before. In October 2015, a Reddit user wondered if Facebook was listening to him after he talked to his girlfriend about killing a cockroach; he claimed he was later shown ads about pest control. Earlier, in 2014, the company ran into problems when it announced it would begin listening to songs or TV shows playing around users when they updated their statuses. Though that feature supposedly required you to opt-in, it raised privacy concerns. These most recent reports, however, also come on the heels of a recent update to Facebook’s advertising program, which has been expanded to target people both on and off Facebook.

Facebook also isn’t the only company dealing with privacy issues. Earlier this month, Gizmodo reported that the FBI “can neither confirm nor deny” that it had ever wiretapped an Amazon Echo. As we bring more and more microphones into our lives, it stands to reason that those ears are going to hear more of what’s happening in our lives. Comforting!

Update 11:56 am: A Facebook spokesperson also sent us the following statement (emphasis theirs):

“Facebook does not use microphone audio to inform advertising or News Feed stories in any way. Businesses are able to serve relevant ads based on people’s interests and other demographic information, but not through audio collection.”






Within minutes of discussing a topic with my wife on numerous occasions (while Facebook wasn’t even open, or our phones even being unlocked, mind you) both of us have opened Facebook to suddenly found ads related to the out-loud discussions right there in our feed.

I’ve been posting a “GODDAMMIT CREEPY FACEBOOK” rant almost every time it’s* happened, and yes, doing a search right now... ...six times in the last three months I’ve posted a screed. There have been several more times it’s where I wasn’t able (too busy, or otherwise engaged) to make note. It happens constantly.

I’d love nothing more than to delete my facebook account, but the reality of our socially connected world is that in order to promote my bands, or to communicate with the people I need to for my photography work, it has become the default—and in many cases, the only—option.

I’m calling shenanigans. You’re a lying liar, Facebook.

* It = An ad showing up where we know neither one of us has written anything in Facebook or Messenger having to do with the topic, and are fairly certain said subject has only been spoken about out-loud.