Facebook may listen to your conversations

Martin Brinkmann
May 25, 2016
Updated • Jan 4, 2018
Companies, Facebook

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:

  1. Open the Facebook application on your device.
  2. Tap Status on the news feed, or tap Write Post on the timeline.
  3. Tap the smiley icon.
  4. 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.

facebook record audio

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?

Facebook may listen to your conversations
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Facebook may listen to your conversations
A recent news report suggests that Facebook may be listening in on conversations when the Facebook application is used on mobile devices.
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  1. o_O said on May 28, 2016 at 10:50 pm

    Not using any social networks, my life is private, ads are also banned, sorry. I have no idea who actually watches those ads, probably buy all the things masochists…

  2. b said on May 28, 2016 at 2:30 pm

    Next step: ads to non-users via cookies linked to like-buttons:

    quote from Wall Street Journal 27.05.2016:

    “Facebook thinks it can use the technology and tactic more effectively than other online advertising companies, thanks largely to the enormous amount of data it has on its own users. That can help it spot patterns in people’s behaviors and better infer what a non-Facebook user might be interested in based on a relatively small amount of information, Mr. Bosworth said. Online advertisers sometimes refer to this tactic as “lookalike” targeting.”

    1. Tom Hawack said on May 28, 2016 at 3:27 pm

      Thanks for the link to wsj’s article. Facebook states its project without the slightest scruple. Business is business.
      Confirms here what I knew of Facebook and, when I hesitate to join the sheep valley I recall such facts and find myself more determined than ever to remain what a Facebook fan above defined as a butterfly.

      I read on wsj’s article, “Facebook disclosed in March that about 1.65 billion people now use the site each month. According to the International Telecommunication Union, a total of 3.17 billion people used the Internet globally in 2015.” which means I was wrong when I wrote above that a majority of Web users had no Facebook account : looks like the gangrene is spreading, most unfortunately; that is, if the provided results are correct, of course.

  3. Tony said on May 28, 2016 at 11:09 am

    Someone still uses Facebook? That’s so 2007.

  4. Anthony said on May 28, 2016 at 9:00 am

    Facebook also have tracking APIs implemented in tons of apps and games. There is no ad blocker for native running code on your mobiles.

  5. Wayfarer said on May 28, 2016 at 1:25 am

    When something online is free then we’re the product – but then who ever thought otherwise? The problem isn’t Facebook or any of the so-called ‘social media’. IMHO they’re actually very UNsocial media, and the problem isn’t privacy, it’s the pathetic mass addiction to these services that overrules peoples’ better judgement.

    Including mine, I freely confess.

    I hate Facebook, and I certainly don’t trust it. But I have an account. Why? Because it’s one of just a few ways (including Skype, which I also use but don’t trust) I can keep in touch with my grandchildren who live a long way away.

    I maintain no contacts on either Facebook or Skype other than the absolute minimum to do that job. I’ve had friends – even family – fall out with me because I’ve refused to add them. If they can’t/won’t understand why then tough – on them not me.

    As for Twitter – I don’t use it because I’ve yet to even minimally understand what the hell it’s actually for.

    Don’t people have REAL friends any more? You know – friends that you phone, visit, have lunch/dinner/drinks with? I know people who have hundreds of online ‘friends.’ I think they’re both sad and delusional.

    1. Tom Hawack said on May 28, 2016 at 10:49 am

      Using Facebook to keep in touch with friends/relatives living far away is indeed a valid reason IMO compared th the mass hysteria of the arena when it comes to exchanges which so often appear as a circus of hatred, sectarianism, racism and the general confusion tied to these absurdities.

      If I ware tempted by Facebook it could be for getting in touch with friends of the past known in foreign countries and with whom I’ve lost contact ever since.

      Also, and I’ll try to write this in correct English though even in native French I lack the terminology, the ability to contact associations, companies that have set their Public Relations interface on a social site, mainly Facebook. How often do I not hear “Give your opinion on our page on Facebook” etc… This “rendez-vous”, meeting-spot bothers me quite often.

      Concerning general society debates if I were one day to join Facebook I’d avoid them as hell but to do so, that is to set a Facebook account correctly, requires as i’ve been told soooo many parameters that at this time this odyssey appears to me as a kill-feature.

      About REAL friends as you mention it with such pertinence, I think many of us still do have those real friends and true pals in REAL life but I also believe that social sites are at the best not an incentive to breath true air, true perfumes, to see true faces and hear true voices and, at the worst, an incentive to forget those realities. I also believe that many social sites’ users are not all dependent, that many consider the tool as only a tool. Finally, remain more users of the Web without a Facebook account than with one…

      Twitter is another fact which meets less contrariety here. Should I start investing myself in the social web it’s with twitter that I’d start with, definitely. One day, maybe.

  6. Bikkenberg Unfriend said on May 27, 2016 at 2:08 am

    FB carelessness is in the EULA or terms where the user gives all the photos and info down into Bikkenberg’s wallet.

  7. I'm Bob. said on May 26, 2016 at 8:23 pm

    Low IQ Butterflies -vs- high IQ Elephants. Anna logs into facebook. She enthusiastically asks herself… What is Bikkenberg – that genius – offering me? Bob, au contraire, does NOT use Facebook. He hates social sites and social features (LIKE ME, TWIT ME, REPOST ME). Bob sadly asks himself: what will they do to steal my privacy now? Either Anna and Bob are free to choose their presence online.

    1. Tom Hawack said on May 26, 2016 at 9:27 pm

      Low IQ comment :)

  8. A different Martin said on May 26, 2016 at 7:55 pm

    I’m another delicate butterfly. Facebook sounds like it could be a potentially useful business-marketing and political-organizing tool, and maybe even a handy way to keep in touch with friends, but their long history of — let’s say “carelessness” to give them the benefit of the doubt — with respect to user control over privacy has made me recoil in horror.

  9. Horst Fuchs said on May 26, 2016 at 3:18 pm

    “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”

    This alone is an Orwellian nightmare.

  10. kalmly said on May 26, 2016 at 3:04 pm

    I’m a butterfly. Wow. I’m a butterfly. :)

    1. Tom Hawack said on May 26, 2016 at 3:34 pm

      .Sequence poetry – start
      Com’on butterflies, let’s have a party among the pretty flowers before big fat grasshopper comes in.
      Wolves don’t eat butterflies.
      Sequence poetry – end.

  11. XenoSilvano said on May 26, 2016 at 12:21 pm


    that is a foregone conclusion.

    I would not be surprised in the slightest if an involvement between Facebook and US intelligence agencies were to be revealed.

    1. Tom Hawack said on May 26, 2016 at 3:31 pm

      I think the question nowadays is more to wonder what is not involved (willingly or not) with intelligence agencies than what is. Even the so-called “Dark Web” is said to be infiltrated by hyper-skilled investigators so after that …

  12. Njet said on May 26, 2016 at 5:42 am

    Status signal from Russia without love: no, njet – not using the Facejunk app. Not using Facejunk at all. Rather talk to people in person than creating an illusion about myself. Doesn’t help to have huge shoulder pads in jacket which make me look like big muscle man. After all I will have to take jacket off some time and then look like famished rooster. Not good. People would make fun of me. So no Facejunk and eavesdropping on me from this Zucker-guy app thing.

  13. 0101010101 said on May 25, 2016 at 9:44 pm

    I’m a 46 years old Software developer and I’m still trying to understand what is really interesting in facebook – I found Absolutely nothing , so boring , unnecessary for Low IQ ‘s (Sorry for saying that) I tried to use it but not for me

    “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.” – Albert Einstein

    1. Jeff-FL said on May 25, 2016 at 9:57 pm

      Right there with you. I’ve tried (at my family’s behest) a couple of times to get into it.

      Here’s what my ‘feed’ boiled down to on a daily basis: 90% of it was females posting pictures of their food, what their kids did in the car that was ‘so cute’, bible verses and other ‘inspirational’ rubbish that gets forwarded over and over, ‘selfie’ pics, and the like.

      Most of social media strikes me as narcissistic self-promotion.

  14. Vendor said on May 25, 2016 at 9:39 pm

    Repeated verbal tests have yet to turn up anything suspicious. My feed remains clogged with the usual ads. Maybe Facebook heard me talking about the test? Conversely, should I be offended that Facebook isn t listening to me?

  15. b2b Trader said on May 25, 2016 at 9:28 pm

    Samsung s smart TVs came under scrutiny in early 2015 when their terms of service stated that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through your use of Voice Recognition. The company was quick to clarify that its voice recognition feature was only activated when asked, and only listened for commands and searches.

  16. Dave said on May 25, 2016 at 9:25 pm

    Installing a first-party Facebook app is asking to be taken advantage of. Anyone using a Facebook app that isn’t from a third party is an idiot.

  17. CHEF-KOCH said on May 25, 2016 at 9:11 pm

    SmartTV’s doing this since years. The thing is you simply can disable it, I know it’s strange that this is enabled by default. But it’s not worth to mention it. It would be interesting if it activates it itself in the background or if you not can take control over it.

    Today from what I can see you always get options, otherwise people would instantly crying for such privacy no-go (which is good).

  18. Gary D said on May 25, 2016 at 9:02 pm

    What is Facebook ?

    1. Tom Hawack said on May 25, 2016 at 9:11 pm

      The grasshopper.

  19. Tom Hawack said on May 25, 2016 at 7:18 pm

    No, I do not use the Facebook app, in fact I don’t have a Facebook account, and since I’m aware that Facebook tracks even those who are not logged in their account, and even those who have no Facebook account provided a site includes one of their damn scripts, I block this Facepaper thing from A to Z and have no intention of changing anything to that.

    1. ilev said on May 26, 2016 at 7:46 pm

      No Facebook, no Whatsapp, no Instagram, no Twitter, no Google+.. :-)

    2. Leo said on May 25, 2016 at 7:57 pm

      So what? You are a special butterfly. Millions aren’t.

      1. b said on May 26, 2016 at 12:41 pm

        no facebook on my behalf either. still, I’m really concearned about my sister, partner and friends. no sheep at all, but too busy in everyday life to keep track of all these growing disadvantages.

      2. Henk van Setten said on May 25, 2016 at 8:54 pm

        @Leo: Just like Tom Hawack, I chose to have no Facebook account and to use browser filters that eliminate their tracking scripts and buttons.

        Interesting to hear this makes me a butterfly! So then, what are those millions who allow themselves to be locked inside the Facebook corral? Sheep, I guess.

        Being a butterfly, at least I will now happily flit away right over the fence, to a faraway sunset that smells of actual live flowers. Meanwhile, my best wishes to all the sheep. I hope you will enjoy the shepherd’s shearing knife.

      3. Tom Hawack said on May 25, 2016 at 8:18 pm

        Well, fashion is done by those who don’t follow it and, according to Gandhi, truth doesn’t rely on the number of votes. Let’s not forget Churchill’s democracy as the worst regime besides all others.

        It can also happen of course that the majority holds the truth. I may very well be totally wrong in my refusal to participate to the Social Circus. I guess there’s always a risk with alternatives. I’ll assume my choice but remain open-minded I hope sufficiently to one day enter Facebook like Caesar his victories in progress : Veni Vidi Vici. Forget the Vici! I’m no conqueror!

  20. Totally Undetected said on May 25, 2016 at 6:59 pm

    …”may” typed Herr Brinkmann in the Title. I’d like to interject and point at ALPHABETH (GOOG on Jow Jones): Google is a corporation based on ADS, by harvesting links google started offering an advertisement platform. Same with Facebook: the free services are used solely for harvesting info on your habits. How many people knows that there are ‘promoted’ links on google? How many people browses the net while looged @ facebook? Google, Facebook are just services that grab cookies, browsing habits, info on your paycheck, your job, your interests, your health and more. Ach So.

    1. Tom Hawack said on May 25, 2016 at 8:07 pm

      Jawohl mein Herr :)
      Facebook ain’t GOOG but true that they both, together with other leaders of the band, participate to the crusade “A better Web for bigger money”. The problem starts not with money itself considering “your love won’t pay my bill” according to the Beatles but when money crafts the policy in such a way that what is designed for the user is only the consequence and not the aim and, accordingly, the price announced as free ends up in fortunes far ahead of the granted services. To resume, it’s not — when it could be — a fair deal.

      Thanks anyway for reminding that an banana is not an orange (removed apple because of ambiguity).

  21. george said on May 25, 2016 at 6:51 pm

    I’m wondering if Facebook eavesdropping Whatsapp too..

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