Is Facebook Listening through your Phone?


There has been a lot of speculation lately regarding Facebook supposedly listening through people’s phones, even when they are not on a call.
Some conspiracy theorists purport that if you mention some product like Cat Food in your daily in-person conversations, that Facebook will then show you an ad for Cat Food. There’s even a viral video supposedly showing that its true.  Well, we’re sorry to say that its time to crumple up the tin foil hat and realize that its just simply not true…

1) Its not technically possible:

From Wired: “To make it happen, Facebook would need to record everything your phone hears while it’s on. This is functionally equivalent to an always-on phone call from you to Facebook. Your average voice-over-internet call takes something like 24kbps one way, which amounts to about 3 kBs of data per second. Assume you’ve got your phone on half the day, that’s about 130 MBs per day, per user. There are around 150 million daily active users in the US, so that’s about 20 petabytes per day, just in the US. To put that in perspective, Facebook’s entire data storage is ‘only’ about 300 petabytes, with a daily ingestion rate of about 600 terabytes. Put another way, constant audio surveillance would produce about 33 times more data daily than Facebook currently consumes.”

2) But lets pretend that it IS possible to listen to 150-million peoples daily conversations:

I’m a big Roger Federer fan. But do I talk about him enough in a daily conversation for Facebook to realize that? Again this is from Wired: “What fraction of that transcript would contain anything commercially of interest to an advertiser? Not much, it turns out. While there are probably a few conversational snippets that would reveal something commercially interesting, the data advertisers really want to use for targeting isn’t on Facebook. No, that data resides instead in your Amazon shopping cart, or your car dealer, or your local Target, or every other place you tip your hand to capitalism about your wants and desires.”

3) AI is not advanced enough to unweave humane language yet: 

“Human language is overrun with sarcasm, innuendo, double-entendre, and pure obfuscation. To assume that at-Facebook-scale AI will be able to figure out, even at the fluky level of internet advertising, just what you crave based on any given statement gives these technologies more credence (or paranoia) than they deserve.” Think about it. If I said, “My boyfriend acts like a donkey, so I’m gonna send him to the moon.” Would FB show me ads for a dating site? Donkey rescue? NASA? Or, if I said, “That Republican sure did a great job, didn’t he? Ha ha. And I bet that Democrat does an even better, one, ha ha.”  Would Facebook think I was for Trump? For Hillary? For John McAfee? — Its just too complicated at this time.

4) Facebook Doesn’t Need to Listen:

The FB algorithms are already doing a great job, thanks to your likes, frowns, reading habits, and comments. And yes, they’re searching for similar keywords in Messenger to SUPPORT the information they’ve already obtained from your online habits. If I want to target an ad to a 60 year old cat-lady in Manhattan that loves to watch Johnny Carson reruns, we can do that! Plus, when you answer surveys, or click on certain links you also get cookied, and are then shown ads on other websites. That cat-lady will be seeing ads for Johnny Carson box-sets whenever she visits Chewy.com.

But, if you are still nervous: There are some steps you can take.

  1. Disable apps within Facebook.
  2. Turn of your Location Services.
  3. Don’t answer surveys.
  4. Disable Facebook!

-end-

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