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Is Facebook Listening to Your Mic to Create Targeted Ads?

Reports of Facebook listening to users via their phone’s mics have gone viral. Is this just a conspiracy theory or should you worry about your privacy?

It’s an alarming thought. Facebook using the microphone on your mobile device to listen in on your conversations. Even though this information is allegedly used to customize which ads you see in your news feed, the security and privacy questions raised are concerning to many. But is it true?

A Conspiracy Is Born
The whole idea came about when someone noticed that the Facebook mobile app requests permission to use your microphone when you install it on your phone. This led to speculation that the app was asking to access users’ microphones in order to listen in on them. The idea was brought into the mainstream after an NBC interview with a communications professor from the University of South Florida went viral. In the interview, Professor Kelli Burns performed an “experiment” during which she spoke aloud about certain things, then showed the audience her Facebook news feed which almost immediately displayed ads related to her conversation topic. It seemed convincing, and many viewers took it as concrete evidence that Facebook was indeed listening.

Read More: How to Protect Your Webcam From Hacking

Finding the Truth
Facebook released an official statement to address these concerns, letting users know that the app only accesses microphones for certain functions that require it. For instance, Facebook Live needs mic access in order to work properly. Users were reminded that they have the option to turn off the permissions for the microphone if they don’t feel comfortable with it enabled. But what about the Kelli Burns interview? Burns herself has since come forward to set the record straight, saying the ads that showed up on her news feed could easily have been based off of her “likes” and other activity on the site.

Not Listening, Just Watching
While they assure us that the listening to us theory is off-base, Facebook is forthcoming that they use much of the information found in your profile and newsfeed to create a targeted ad experience for you. While they aren’t literally “watching” you, pages you follow and posts you like are used to help Facebook figure out which advertisements might be most relevant to you. They also use demographic information, such as where you live, how old you are, and your political preferences. Targeted ads are nothing new, and they’re not exclusive to Facebook. This kind of marketing is almost as old as the Internet itself.

While Facebook may not be listening to you through your phone’s mic, spyware that enables someone to do just that does exist. To protect your device from infiltration by spying programs and other malware, always run a comprehensive security app like PSafe Total.