Facebook is in the news again, this time for listening in on conversations or background noise.
The store on the News10 website is sensationalist but its core is true. The news report makes it seem as if Facebook is listening in on conversations all the time.
The report admits that users need to give Facebook permission to access the microphone, but makes it seem as if Facebook will from that moment on listen to anything that is being said.
This, according to Facebook, is not the case.
What is true though is that Facebook, under certain circumstances, will use the microphone on mobile devices to understand what is being said or played in the background.
Here are the caveats: the feature is only available in the US currently, it is not on by default, and Facebook will only use the microphone to listen in during status updates.
This Facebook help page highlights what is happening:
Does Facebook record conversations when it identifies the things I'm listening to or watching?
No, we don't record your conversations. If you choose to turn on this feature, we'll only use your microphone to identify the things you're listening to or watching based on the music and TV matches we're able to identify. If this feature is turned on, it's only active when you're writing a status update.
You can verify if song and TV identification is turned on or off in the following way:
- Open the Facebook application on your device.
- Tap Status on the news feed, or tap Write Post on the timeline.
- Tap the smiley icon.
- Tap on the volume icon there to turn song and TV identification on or off.
Mobile phone users may get a prompt to allow Facebook to use the microphone when the feature is turned on for the first time.
You may turn off microphone access, record audio access, or any other permission that refers to access to the device's microphone, in the privacy or security settings on the device.
So how can you protect yourself from that?
If you don't want Facebook to use the feature, make sure the app has no permission to use the microphone on the device.
Another option that you have is to not use the Facebook application at all -- which is also beneficial to the device's battery life -- but to use the mobile site of Facebook instead using a web browser.
While it may not be as comfortable as the app under certain circumstances, it does away with many of the privacy implications that the Facebook application brings along with it.
Now You: do you use the Facebook app?