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Facebook denies eavesdropping on users through smartphone mics

With your data being ever more important to big companies, it’s no surprise that fears run rife around the likes of Facebook listening to you through your phone’s mic. 

But in a response to a tweet raising such concerns, Facebook’s vice president of advertising Rob Goldman completely denied that the social networking giant has and ever will use a smartphone’s microphone to snoop on users of Facebook’s mobile app to harvest information about their interests and fire targeted adverts at them.

Tech conspiracy theories that Facebook has been listening out for key phrases in people’s conversations and then targeting adverts at them in the Facebook mobile app have been doing the rounds for some time.

While this may seem a little like something out of a dystopian sci-fi movie or Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror series, the technology to do this does exist; the Google Assistant for instance listens out for key words to activate it and has natural language processing to make sense of what people are asking it to do.

So Facebook could easily have such a system that eavesdrops on conversations looking to sniff out phrases with mentions of products or consumer goods, especially if the app is granted permission to access the phone’s microphone or camera.

This would of course be a large breach of privacy unless Facebook made it abundantly clear that it’s using a phone’s mic for those purposes and to allow its mobile app users to opt out. But like any good conspiracy theory, if enough people give it notice or find nuggets of truth in it, then the theory starts to become fact in some people’s minds.

If you’re concerned about such snooping then the simple fix would be to cut-off the access Facebook and other social media apps have to your smartphone’s mic and camera.

Related: Twitter is becoming overrun with bots 

Do you think social networks spy on us? Have your say on, ironically, Twitter or Facebook. 

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