As much as I hate Facebook, I love Facebook. It’s an awful cesspool that brings out the worst in people, sort of like an Internet comments section that exists only for comments and swirls on in perpetuity. It’s also a furtive breeding ground for conspiracy theories and hasty responses to debunk those theories, both of which make me smile on the inside.
Facebook released a statement on June 2 assuring the public that they’re not listening to your phone calls. Kelli Burns, a mass communications professor at the University of South Florida, reignited fears that, because Facebook has access to your microphone, they are able to eavesdrop on you. Facebook does this, supposedly, to suggest more relevant ads to you and litter your feed with links that you’re never going to click. Devious!
Facebook has been begging you for access to your microphone, as well as your photos and whatever other info, apps, etc., it can scrounge from your smartphone for years. Burns isn’t the first person to suggest that it might be doing this in order to spy on you. Why it’s so interested in YOU is anyone’s guess. Sure, YOU or ME or US are probably just seen as commodities to a company like Facebook that profits (somehow) on us being us in an online forum, but since everyone nowadays seems so eager to share in public anything and everything about their lives, it seems like Zuckerberg and company wouldn’t have to hijack your precious microphone to learn everything they’d need to know about you.
Burns didn’t go as far as to outright accuse Facebook of any wrongdoing, but she said she wouldn’t be surprised if they were up to no good, which is sort of like accusing, especially in this knee-jerk reaction society we live in. So it shouldn’t be a shock that Facebook reflexively released a statement to defend itself.
“Facebook does not use your phone’s microphone to inform ads or to change what you see in News Feed,” Facebook wrote in the June 2 statement (side note: I love the capitalization of “News Feed” here). “Some recent articles have suggested that we must be listening to people’s conversations in order to show them relevant ads. This is not true. We show ads based on people’s interests and other profile information—not what you’re talking out loud about.”
The statement goes on to say that Facebook only accesses your phone’s microphone when you’re using a “specific feature that requires audio.”
“This might include recording a video or using an optional feature we introduced two years ago to include music or other audio in your status updates,” the statement concludes.
Like many features on Facebook, you can easily deny the app access to your microphone by going into your settings and unchecking the pertinent box. And thus, disaster will be averted.
I understand, what with the NSA hiding in our bushes and peering through our blinds and whatnot, that we’re all worried about who’s out there watching us. Now that pretty much everyone has what amounts to a tiny spy camera built into their hand-held devices, it’s a very real concern that at any given moment our privacy will be violated.
That’s probably why it’s easy for Burns to be so paranoid. Sure, Facebook having access to your phone’s microphone is probably not that big a deal. Given the site’s number of users and the percentage of those users who likely have the mobile app downloaded to their smartphones, it’s probably not even cost-effective to have a whole team of employees whose only purpose is to filter through hours of recorded phone conversations in order to apply the correct algorithm that makes an ad for organic dog food appear on your news feed … sorry, News Feed. That being said, you can’t expect billion-dollar corporations like Facebook, whose sole way of making money is culling all of your personal information (that you input into its database) and selling it to other billion-dollar corporations, to respect your privacy.
Why worry anyway? If you’re really scared that someone is out there recording all of the shady shit you’re doing, then maybe you shouldn’t be doing shady shit. Just be more boring, like me. And, like, who talks on the phone anymore anyway? I forgot my iPhone even was a “phone,” because I talk on it so rarely. All I ever do is text. Ha … Wouldn’t that be funny … If Facebook was actually reading our texts … …
OMG OUR TEXTS.