Is Facebook tapping our microphones? The ads we often see are extremely specific. Sometimes they even advertise things we just talked about with friends. How does Facebook target us with such on-point ads? Ashley Carman reports on this episode of Gadget Myth Busting.


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– 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).

50 thoughts on “Is Facebook listening to your conversations?

  1. 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.

  2. 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

  3. 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….

  4. 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.

  5. 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!

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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

  9. 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..

  10. 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.

  11. 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!

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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 🙂

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