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Media and Communications

Is Facebook listening to your conversations?

Is Facebook listening to your conversations?

– Alright, we’re going to do it. We’re going to talk about Facebook, and the fact that lot of you think the company company is
listening to your conversations, even when you aren’t using the app. Like, the one time my friend mentioned a random musical to me, and I saw an ad for it
in my Instagram feed later that night. Facebook owns Instagram, by the way, if you weren’t aware. I don’t even go to musicals, so this was a super
weird ad for me to see. Which leads me to the question is Facebook tapping our microphones to listen in on everything we say, to then, serve us ads. – Yes or no. Does Facebook use audio
obtained from mobile devices to enrich personal
information about it’s users? – No. – While I believe that Facebook isn’t listening to our conversations, it has previously screwed up user privacy, particularly, with it’s
Cambridge Analytica scandal. So it’s always good to be skeptical of what the company says and what it does. Every expert I talked to for this video believes Facebook isn’t listening. Actual evidence proves it isn’t, too. But the scary thing is
you produce so much data that Facebook probably doesn’t
even need your microphone to learn everything about you. Now, let’s dive in. To answer whether Facebook
is tapping your microphone, we need to answer two main things. One, is it even technically feasible for Facebook to tap billions
of people’s microphones and parse all their voice data to then determine who is speaking and about what and to. Why would they want to do this, anyway, and would it really be that lucrative? On the technical side, yes, it is totally possible for Facebook to manage this voice data. Nigel Cannings, a co-founder and CTO of the company called Intelligent Voice, says all that’s really
needed to parse voice data is serious processing power, which Facebook likely has. – All of the technology exists today. It would be a very feasible
technical challenge for a large tech company to undertake. – And figuring out what
you’re saying is super easy. – What’s been said and what it means are extremely simple. – Determining who’s talking
varies in difficulty, depending on the circumstances. Like, if you’re calling
from your Facebook account, it’s pretty easy to
figure out who’s speaking and attribute that data
to that specific person. – The ability to distinguish me as a British male of a particular age just from my voice is very simple. And to distinguish you as an American woman of a particular age is pretty simple. – For example, Facebook could easily tell that I’m the one talking
about Oreos or whatever else if I’m calling someone
from my Facebook account. However, a stray microphone conversation isn’t as easy to attribute, and this is what most people
are probably worried about. Let’s say you’re having
lunch with a friend and at least 20 other
people are around you. Facebook would probably struggle to figure out who’s talking. Cannings says the
company would likely need additional metadata to narrow the field. It could easily determine the age and sex of the person talking
just from their voice. So if it could also figure
out geolocation data, which Facebook and Instagram collect, it could then get closer to figuring out which user is talking. If Facebook set up a specific geo-fence, it could even further narrow its options by identifying everyone else in the area, and then matching voice data
up against its user base. – We’re spewing geolocation
data all the time. So if I could narrow it down to, say, a thousand people in
the particular geo-fence, then, if you we’re recording
something on your phone, I’ve got access to that. And I also knew the biometric profiles of the other thousand
people in that geo-fence, I could do a pretty good job
of working out that it was you. – But Facebook is a massive
platform with billions of users. If you’re in a dense city like New York, with me and millions of other residents, this would likely be a difficult task. In a small town, it’d
probably be possible, but also would require
a decent amount of work just to figure out how
to target you with ads. – If I was trying to match it against the hundred million or billion
other people on my platform, then, no, I couldn’t. So it’s still a matter of scale. The ability to do one to many matchings on biometrics exists, but the more people
you throw into the pot, the less accurate it becomes. – Alright. So let’s say Facebook could listen to and recognize individuals. Does it actually need to? If the company isn’t
listening in like it says, then, how are we all getting
such scary on point ads? Is voice data even worth collecting? – I actually think that voice data probably gives up more
information about ourselves than most any other sort of data. Because not only have you got
the contents of what’s said, you’ve also got a very rich
seam of emotionally content that goes with it, as well. – Facebook has access to something even better than voice data, everything else that you do. I called Andres Arrieta,
the Tech Products Manager at the Electronic Frontier Foundation to chat about Facebook’s
tracking technology. – They have so much data on us that they don’t need to
turn on the microphone. – Let’s run through the things Facebook likely already knows about us. It knows your location because
of where you say you live, but also the location tracking permissions you give the company’s app. It knows your
self-identified demographics, what you look like because
of the photos you upload, your family members and friends, and, crucially, your browsing habits. Facebook uses its ad tracking technology, called the Facebook Pixel, to follow you around the web and keep tabs on wherever you end up. This pixel, which website owners
can build onto their sites, helps advertisers figure out if their Facebook ads
have been successful. Oh, and you know those Like buttons you see on every single website? Those track you, too. Facebook has even been able to identify user’s sexual preferences based on the sites they visit. That’s how the company accidentally outed gay users
to advertisers years ago. – This goes much more further than just uploading a simple profile and showing you what type of beer or what motorcycle you want to buy. This is about your really,
really personal relationships and things that you might
have not shared with others. – Facebook tracks user’s
IRL purchase history, too. – They do buy your credit history. We tend to think of online tracking as something that is contained online, but it’s no longer contained online. They’re putting all these other sources, online and offline, together to reveal our complete lives. – It uses this data in the aggregate to anonymously verify that it’s
ads actually drive sales up. Suffice it to say, the
company knows a lot about you. You can witness ad trackers
in the wild through plugins like the Electronic Frontier
Foundation’s Privacy Badger, which shows all the third party trackers keeping tabs on you. It says The Verge has more
than one hundred trackers, which is kind of not a good look for us, but you also don’t pay
us for this content. And that’s why Arrieta thinks Facebook isn’t listening
to our conversations. But, if you require more hard evidence, the EFF even proved that the
company wasn’t listening to us in a news segment with CBS where it monitored traffic
from a user’s phone. It didn’t see any audio
recordings going to Facebook. Andres thinks that maybe
people notice ads more after they’ve talked
about a specific topic. – Most of the time, it’s because we sometimes actually don’t
pay attention to the ads. And it’s totally possible that that ad had been playing before, but because it’s such a small
brand, you never noticed. – I know that possible explanation
isn’t totally satisfying, but in some ways, it’s scarier. Facebook knows everything about you without needing your microphone. If you’re concerned about ad tracking, and Facebook in particular, you could delete your account, which also means deleting
WhatsApp and Instagram. Sorry about it. You could also try an
ad tracking extension like Privacy Badger, which lets you turn off ad trackers. Arrieta suggests using different browsers and diversifying where you search so that companies can’t build
a complete profile of you. You could also enable Do
Not Track in your browser which asks websites to not track you. They don’t have to honor
your request, though. Generally, we all have to come to terms with the fact that ads power the internet. It’s reality at this point. And until we start
paying for every service, or we drastically rethink ad technology, we’re stuck with it. Maybe I’ll put a love ya in there, too. Just for–
– [Woman] Love ya. – Love ya (laughs). – [Woman] Yeah, all of those. – Alright, so let’s say Facebook could. – (laughs) Sorry. – Lauren Grush (laughs). – Blame Angela, she puts (laughs).

100 thoughts on “Is Facebook listening to your conversations?

  1. Didn't we just learn that Facebook accesses Android call logs? They probably knew that your friend called you and knew they had been to or were interested in the musical and then fed you the ad.

  2. I wonder who is behind all this…? Bringing the spotlight "only" on to the Facebook… Facebook is just a dolphin in Mr G's pool. Audit them first. You talking about microphones? At times I think something and it starts showing in Mr G's search bar. There's something bewildering going on. Facebook is not in the good books anymore. And media getting the best buck out of it, of course. #stoptargettingFB

  3. I wouldn’t mind paying for the services I use or websites I read, if that meant nobody’s tracking everything I do.

  4. Idk why ppl are bitching around because of the mic situation does it even matter they use everything else to track you…

  5. 100 trackers on theverge.com – "Yeah it is a lot, but you dont pay us for content so its ok". Isn't that exactly what facbook, google and others are saying and doing and exactly what you critique in the video? Kind of hypocritical of you to say and do that.

  6. So for all social media platforms, and I just checked today, you go into apps and permissions, and cut off phone, camera, etc. as you want…I have, and FB app has NOT crashed or complained. Check yours out today.

  7. Being served ads and being tracked to this degree are not the same thing. I don't use an ad blocker…yet, because I want to support the publishers and creators whose content I consume. And while such targeting is sold as "more effective", I would wager that if publishers en masse stopped supporting such targeting practices, CPM rates would not see significant decreases. Reach is ultimately the arbiter of success in terms of advertising dollars, so while targeting may make it "easier" to sell to brands or agencies, all that really matters is scale. I owe you my attention as a reader of The Verge, not my data.

  8. They could get all that information from voice….IF THE SOFTWARE AND COMPUTER POWER WAS THERE TO DO IT CONTINUOUSLY (just try turning on Youtubes own "auto translate captions CC" on any video where someone isn't speaking directly to camera and see what happens).

  9. Yeh. They are tracking you. No big deal. It’s called “Cookies”. Nearly every single website uses Cookies, Including Twitter and other Social Media

  10. Sorry, the first couple minutes of this video are wasted. Fbk doesn't need to identify the age gender etc of the phone owner. It would say : "I've listened to 5 conversations now and this voice has been in every one" done. It now knows voice A is user 123 on android phone xyz. No guessing accents. No age guessing. No guessing.

  11. I’ve made online orders and now I’ve been advertised Honey… an app I think that searches promo codes. 🙄

  12. Everyone is against Facebook because they know so much about us but no one seems to say anything about Google and how much they know about us. Why is that?

  13. I was watching a video on YouTube app on my android phone , when I came back to Facebook – the ad popped between another video had the content related to the YouTube video I just watched.COINCIDENCE. I don't know if this is because I have granted access to YouTube to share it on Facebook. Facts: Besides that.. the video on YouTube was in my mother tongue Tamil language & it had no subtitles. I was watching it with headphones. Whatever… one should be like Jack reacher to avoid all hassles in future.! Which is difficult , my entire business is built around Facebook & internet. So … I'm the content 🙂

  14. what if if turn off microphone access for facebook on mu phone? What if I have an iPhone and turn off all the permissions, including microphone and location. I am pretty sure apple wont let facebook spy on their users.

  15. Facebook
    SNAPCHAT is there left alone not even tracking data and still everybody hates Snapchat lol

  16. Fact is that Facebook listening you 24/7 not via FB app but via FB Messenger, If you're Networking guy just do some packet capture turn off Microphone permission from all app, It'll come clean and just give microphone rights to FB Messenger and just talk hot words like Pizza, Vacation, New York, without even opening FB messenger app and see the result, If you know how to decode FB_ZERO protocol there you'll have all your hot words. If I were you I'll say bye-bye to FB Messenger.

  17. All the time. Lately, I have started seeing ads on Facebook from the websites that I have browsed on a different browser in which I haven't even logged-in on Facebook, EVER!

  18. It would only have to pic up key words, to feed an algorithm for an add. And then only send particular data not the full conversation

  19. The best way to learn about somebody and what they're doing Is tapping their phone conversations Facebook is own and controlled by the government so yes this is not some hoax this is the real deal.

  20. Even if they are not listening somebody else might be….hackers. They have all your data and will use it against u. Fu*k their user agreements #deletefacebook #scamartist #sellouts

  21. Two problems with that question put to Facebook. (1) Didn't ask if the microphones were turned on. The question asked was whether is was being done for a specific reason. (2) Only asked about microphones on phones. The question should have been broader to include desktops, laptops, ipads, etc..

  22. 7:15 That's false. It's proved that if you talk via Skype, Discord or any other kind of VoIP services, about games, electronics, cars, travels or dog food, Google starts to send you adds related with that specific topics

  23. Nice try the Verge. Facebook isn’t collecting voice data but their “3rd party affiliates” are. Also, it’s called voice isolation and voice training. Do you remember the Dragon software from 1998?

  24. All you have to do is say out loud “ I am hungry, I want some fast food” and within seconds a food ad will pop up. The proof that they are listening is most easily proven when what you say out loud is an impulse buy and the ad could be useless within minutes so facebook shows it much faster.

  25. It is happening to me. I got some facebook ads related to products and services I talked with my girl while we were driving using the cell phone to navigate.

  26. I was on Instagram and my mom was at a bar somewhere called Crush then I was talking to my friend and when I was on insta it had a add for Crush

  27. I have friends who started talking about really random things that they never had talked about before. In 1-2 days, they received ads on the Facebook app on the same random things they had talked about. It's a real thing.

  28. THEY ARE!! So our phones were sitting on the couch, and in the same room my fiance and I were talking. (Topic has never been searched for or posted or typed on our phones). We ran to the store. Finally on the way home i got on my phone an was scrolling and an ad popped up in regards to what we had talked about a little earlier at home! Again….we never used our phones!

  29. I understand ads being shown due to posts, pages websites etc being liked or used, or searches being done because i imagine its using the recorded info in our cashe/cookies. But we were TALKING IN PERSON….not typing, texting, posting, searching or talking over the phone.

  30. Just got back home from meeting a potential buyer for a piece of land I own. He asked if it would be any harder to get a permit if the house he builds there is a wooden one. So we talk briefly about wooden homes (which I have no particular interest in and have never googled as far as I can remember). I get home, open Facebook, and guess what…an ad for wooden houses….

  31. me and my friends were talking about a soda called nocco and they said they didn't like it, but I said I liked Nocco tropical. The next fkn day I get an ad with a big picture on a Nocco Tropical. WTH

  32. I uninstalled the Facebook app because it was collecting roughly 85 megabytes of data every day when I wasn't using the app. It also was always on in the background and using most of my phone's resources. I want to know what that app was doing before I put it back on my phone. It was obviously collecting data but what data? When you install the app it specifically says it can access your camera and microphone and even make phone calls without your authorization so that pretty much says it right there. I figured out if it was recording everything I said it would be about 85 megabytes.

  33. i'm PRETTY sure they are listening, and i'm sure they are sharing their data with other media agencies

  34. My mother once said how she wanted to get Wheat Thins from the store, and an hour later she got an ad for wheat thins… creepy

  35. My mom was watching an exercise video on the desktop with the internet off. Her phone was sitting on the desk near it. When she later went on Facebook, she got a whole bunch of ads for the same fitness thing she was doing and she said she hasn't gotten them in a long time.

  36. You know. I do believe Snowden would disagree with the results of this video. In fact these tracking and monitoring methods are not just possible but are still being used.

  37. Facebook would have to fight Google over the usage of your microphone. They’re already using it.

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