Have we ended up in the real-life version of “1984”, George Orwell’s visionary novel? Big Brother may not be watching you, but Facebook certainly is.
Recently mouth-dropping stories popped up again about Facebook hacking our private lives. Apparently, Facebook can listen to our most personal conversations and use this information for advertisements.
The stunning cat food experiment
Check out this incredible video that a couple made after suspecting that Facebook was listening to their conversations.
Fun experiment to test at home: what happens when you talk about cat food around your phone? https://t.co/QpVzGoTVCl
— Ancilla (@ncilla) November 2, 2017
They picked a random topic that they had never talked about before or looked up online: cat food. They dropped the word in a few conversations while having the woman’s phone turned on in the background. Amazingly enough, two days later Facebook started posting ads about cat food in her newsfeed.
A mere coincidence?
It’s not the only story out there. Dozens of viewers of the video have shared their own similar experiences. Others saw marriage ads popping up minutes after proposing – Facebook knows you’re getting married before even your parents do! Or a promotion for a show or movie they had just spoken to a friend about.
How Facebook is watching your every move
So how does it work? It’s the Facebook Messenger app that’s spying on you, and its 900 million other users. Facebook makes it impossible to read or send messages without downloading their Messenger app – very annoying yet unavoidable if you want to stay in touch with your friends.
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Messenger’s terms of agreement reveal what may have been Facebook’s true motive to make it the only way for you and me to access our messages. The app’s terms and conditions allow Facebook to access our device’s microphone and record a video or audio at any time, without our knowledge or permission. This also includes the possibility to take pictures and videos without any prior confirmation.
So by downloading the Messenger app, we actually allow Facebook to look over our shoulder at our every move. It’s the silent friend you never knew you had.
What does Facebook has to say for itself? Rob Goldman, the company’s head of advertising, tries to set things straight by saying that “we don’t – and have never – used your microphone for ads. Just not true”.
It’s not the first time that Facebook is forced to deny such allegations. Last year already, the social network released a statement that it does not listen to conversations for advertisement purposes. It said “we only access your microphone if you have given our app permission and if you are actively using a specific feature that requires audio.”
Could there be any other explanation?
A simple explanation could be: it’s just a coincidence, or it’s your imagination. With 1.7 billion users receiving tens of advertisements a day, there can always be a couple of ads that coincide with a conversation someone had.
Some also refer to the “Baader-Meinhof” phenomenon that we’re all familiar with: once you have noticed something or talked about it, it seems to start appearing everywhere. It might have been there before, but you only notice it once you become aware of it.
So what can you do about it?
At this stage, we don’t have black on white proof yet that Facebook actually tunes in on our conversations. Whatever the truth may be, the fact is that the network has a wealth of information about you and me. Even if it’s not (yet) using our microphones, it has the possibility to do so.
With this uncomfortable truth in mind, what can you do about it?
Luckily, you can prevent Facebook from accessing your microphone in your device settings:
- This is how you can do this in iOS: go to the Settings app > Privacy > Microphone > deselect Facebook.
- For Android: go to the Settings app > Personal > Privacy and Safety > App permissions > Microphone > deselect Facebook.
Next to the access to your microphone, you can also change what kind of advertisements – if any – you want to see appearing on your newsfeed. Through the “Your ad preferences” settings page you can check what information from your profile is used for ad targeting and make any changes you like.
Facebook might be all around us like a real-life Big Brother, but we are not powerless either. Even if you don’t feel like quitting the network entirely, there are still some options to limit Facebook’s interference with your private life. Don’t let this silent friend take control over your life.
We’d love to hear your thoughts below! Have you had any stunning experience with Facebook that the world must know about?
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