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Does Facebook use the microphonin smartphones to gather informati andarget ads? – Quora

Allegations Facebook Illicitly Using Microphones (2017)

Does Facebook use the microphone in smartphones to gather information and target ads?

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former Product Designer at Facebook (2015-2016)

former Product Designer at Facebook (2015-2018)

MillsandPaulhave great answers; Id like to add one more perspective here.

If Facebook were to entertain the idea of using speech recognition from users microphones to find keywords to sell ads about, there would be several things they would try that would be much easier to implement first:

Using the content of your posts on Facebook. Short, edited, grammatically clear writing is much easier to parse than speech. However, its pretty difficult technologically to parse the

of a post. If you posted on Facebook on the day the Patriots and Steelers were playing and say only What a crazy game, your friends were likely also watching the game and know that youre from Pennsylvania, so they can deduce that you were upset by the outcome and continue to hate the Patriots. Facebook would not have any idea what you were talking about, let alone whether or not you liked Patriots. They would not be able to reliably use this data to serve you ads for e.g. Patriots merchandise.

Using the content of posts you like or comment on. Same problem of missing tone and context of what youre saying.

Using the content of the messages you and your friends send to each other. Same tone and context problem.

To the best of my knowledge, Facebook is not currently using data from any of the methods described above to target ads to you. If and when they get better at understanding tone and context, I believe they would prioritize these methods well before they attempted using your microphone.

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, former Manager, Product Analytics at Facebook (2013-2016)

former Product Designer at Facebook (2015-2016)

There is no way they are doing this.

Not only could this not be kept a secret for long, but once word got out, it would be a major scandal that would bring down the regulatory hammer in severe ways.

There are laws everywhere about the recording of conversations. A private company secretly recording hundreds of millions of conversations would lead to crushing government action. Foreign (non-US) governments would be unforgiving if they found their private citizens (and government officials!) were being secretly recorded. And asMills Bakerhas pointed out, the FB app would be dropped from app stores leading to precipitous drop in users and revenue. This is not to mention the devastating blow to user trust. There is no way they could take this risk.

If they were doing this, it could easily be verified by looking at network traffic and mic use. So its not like it could be kept a secret at all.

Besides, Facebook has excellent ad targeting data. They have no need for risky illegal data when they already have amazing legal and authorized data.

First, its non-trivial technologically to passively, persistently record a users aural environment, extract reliably useful data from all that youd capture many voices from many people speaking in many contexts, televisions and radios, etc. and transmit that data efficiently to auction-based advertising systems where advertisers can choose to target people based on that data. There are hosts of issues that would challenge even Facebook with this, some technical and some otherwise. I wouldnt expect it to work that well.

Much more importantly, it is infeasible to do this without

leaving evidence in your software that Apple and Google could easily discover in their App Store review processes, evidence of something that violates their rules and would get Facebook into trouble and possibly banned from their most lucrative markets. Remember: both Apple and Google view Facebook as a competitor in various ways, and Apple would love the PR of standing up for privacy against FB as well.

leaving evidence that many third-parties would discover in network or device performance assessments (e.g. the apps would need to send all that data in some form over the network; battery performance should degrade noticeably; etc.)

large numbers of people involved, and not only engineers but people who operate and run and sell Facebooks ad services.

Which brings me to the main reason to doubt this:given the high risk of being caught and the severe consequences that might entail from being banned from the App Store to being regulated or prosecuted by governments to being permanently detested by usersthe return on investment for a program like this isnt worth it.Facebook is alreadyby farthe best ad targeting platform in the world, in history; they arent desperate for additional differentiation. The investments they make into their core tracking and targeting and matching systems should continue to give them a wild competitive advantage for some time.

Doing something illegal, controversial, in violation of policies of key platforms, toperhapshave achanceat marginal improvements to an already dominant product isnt in Facebooks interest. So: I dont think theycando this, and even if they could, I dont think they would at present. But its a large company and I suppose its possible. I just doubt it.

I believe the persistence of this rumor is down to a single fact: few of us can believe how predictable our consumer behaviors are. Seeing VCs on Twitter who think that only by eavesdropping could Facebook know theyre interested in Allbirds is surreal, but consistent with what I observe in myself: Im amazed when some News Feed ad seems to knowexactlywhat my friends have been discussing as though its notpreciselythat kind of activity that leads to e.g. site-visiting behaviors that can be easily cohorted by Facebook.

I have no inside information about Facebook but this allegation has all the markings of being an zombie rumor that will never die and is unsubstantiated.

The evidence for this rumor is lack of imagination – I cant imagine how they would do it with legal means, therefore it is impossible do it. It is backed up by a vision of Facebook as a horribly malicious actor that has no morals or ethics or regard for legality.

It is impossible to prove that something doesnt exist. Short of Facebook opening up their entire codebase, no one will believe that this isnt happening. Even if they did do this, people would think that they were hiding things in a parallel repository.

So lets start out with the circumstantial evidence against this:

It is illegal and against the policies of many platforms. The biggest threat to Facebook right now is not profitability, its regulation. This is against their self interest.

It wouldnt be a secret. There are thousands of Facebook employees who would be able to discover this or would be aware. To think that no one would leak this in the current environment is pretty far fetched.

It would be discovered. This of usage would leave signatures in network traffic.

Its pretty hard. To do the voice recognition and then match it to relevant intents without a high false positive rate is pretty futuristic right now. Its not that dissimilar to supposing that may be your smart light bulbs have facial recognition and microphones in them.

The honest truth is that we dont know all the signals that come into Facebook, but they are extensive including public records, your entire friend network (and what they are doing in real time), the ad pixel network, your geolocation, plus your usage of Facebook. So your friend is close to you and have recently visited a webpage that is describing a new pair of sunglasses. You may see an ad for those sunglasses. Now you wont remember that ad unless you happen to be talking about those sunglasses at which point it becomes Facebook must be listening.

I am not a computer science expert (even if I do have a masters degree in computer science) and I am not going to battle with genius minds of tech like my friend Paul but … true or false, evidences are here, this thing is too big to be hidden, and we must retro-engineer it.

Concerning the argument : Google, Apple would have seen it … Remember when Snowden was part of a fucking powerful organisation who was wiretaping half the planet, Where were Google & Apple ? They didnt even see it coming. Sometimes you have to admit that one organisation is better skilled than the others. We only knew about it after Snowdew escaped proof and told the world. Think about it … who would want to have Snowdens life right now.

Now concerning the part about computational power : Okay, maybe doing it for all the users is too expensive. So what if they are only at an early stage of beta testing, trying it one part of the population to see if its worth the money or not. With the actual model, the purchasing engagement of people is maybe at 15%, if the AB testing concludes that users have a purchasing engagement of 30% with this set … Investors are going to go all-in for this technology.

Finally, I can understand that some people doubt it because they think that they are knowledgeable enough about the latest technologies and practices … but dear engineers, be less cocky about it, I know you guys as super-engineers and I love how you are passionate about your work but sometimes you cant be aware of everything thats happening. And try to focus on your logical engineer mind, after how many evidences would you start to doubt ? Lets get back to our lab days, we have an experimental plan to do. Instead of setting back, protecting yourselves by blocking facebook access to your mic and upgrading you adblock, I would suggest to deactivate it, give all the rights to facebook and any other app, connect to the wifi, and start talking about some random products or services that you could eventually be able to afford but were never suggested to you, the more you play this game, the more it becames obvious, so powerful and so precise. I have more than a dozen examples.

The secret is to know exactly how your IDFA profile is made, what are your ads preferences and profiling on facebook, everything everyone knows about you, then all the ads that you have had until now are legit. After that, start messing with it with products that cant be suggested only knowing your IDFA. For example : youre not into music and you start talking loud about willing to have piano classes next to your phone, all day every day, without googling it of course, sometimes the results are astonishing, just 30 minutes after.

I am not an expert, but I am an engineer and my life have been all about prooving theorems, verifying theories and trying to rationalize believes, fears and modelizing events, and I am telling you this fact that have been verified : some of the ads that are suggested to me and some others users, happened to what we said on an IRL conversation without any previous google search.

In general services with ads benefit from having as much targeting infirmation about people. Because than advertisers can set up ads to people willing to buy their products and they can pay more for ads.

Moreover if an Android app for example has a mic permission it is technically possible to grab and machine interpret what person talks about via phone.

There is an issue of privacy. But for example for Facebook privacy, in personal opinion, is not so important.

So it could be possible and beneficial. But i dont think Facebook would be able to do it without researches tracing it down.

Thus there are reports of people who felt like after phone talk seen very precise ads about issue discussed. Its hard to valide these reports without more investigation.

One of the explanations i came across is that after talking about issue we start to notice ads that was invisible due to ad blindeness. I find it a plausible explanation of this phenomena.

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