No, Facebook doesn't secretly listen via your microphone to target ads at you

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Whatever you might have heard, Facebook doesn't listen in on everything you do through the microphone on your phone, mining the information for clues on what ads to send you.

"No," CEO Mark Zuckerberg told members of Congress on Tuesday, addressing a conspiracy theory that doesn't seem to want to die.

The theory has been floating around since at least 2016. It posits that Facebook surreptitiously records audio using the microphones on users' , then uses to turn it into searchable terms that the site can use to place ads in the user's news feed.

An example would be if someone were discussing lawn mowers near their phone, then suddenly started seeing lawn mower ads in their Facebook news feed.

Facebook addressed the rumor in June 2016 in a post, saying this:

"Facebook does not use your phone's to inform ads or to change what you see in News Feed. 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."

However, the rumor isn't going away. In a hearing before Congress on the Cambridge Analytica scandal Tuesday, Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan asked Zuckerberg, "Yes or no, does Facebook use audio obtained from mobile devices to enrich personal information about users?"

"No," Zuckerberg responded.

He continued, "Senator, let me get clear on this, you're talking about this that gets passed around that we listen to what's going on on your microphone and use that for ads. To be clear, we do allow people to take videos on their devices and share those, and videos have audio, so we do while you're taking a , record that and use that to make the service is better by making sure your videos have audio, but I think that is pretty clear. But I just wanted to make sure I was exhaustive there."

For those who might still be concerned, a simple solution is to go into phone settings and turn off the permissions that allow the Facebook app to access the microphone. Note that this will make it impossible to record live videos with sound on Facebook, so you'll need to turn it back on should you want to do so.

Instructions on cutting the link:

For iPhone users, go to Settings >> Privacy >> Microphone >> look for Facebook, then toggle off the setting that allows the Facebook app to access the microphone.

For recent Android versions go to Settings >> Apps >> Facebook >> Permissions, then toggle off the setting that allows the Facebook app to access the microphone.


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User comments

Apr 13, 2018
And how about when Google allows the Uber app to access Android cameras and screen images without user consent and with no way of users ever knowing if or when they were doing it? No good reason was ever provided as to why Uber needed this data. Likewise, turning off the Facebook app access to your mic will not necessarily stop them from actually accessing the mic if Google lets them do it. And Zuck claim that they are NOT doing it are in conflict with several well designed experiments that showed they are listening.

Calling this a conspiracy is a feeble attempt to deflect attention from actual experimental results.

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