Facebook Adds Microphone Spying to List of “Privacy” Features

This week, Facebook quietly added a new, potentially sinister capability to its app for iOS and Android devices.

According to the International Business Times, the new feature is meant to function as a sort of “always-on” Shazam, identifying songs, TV shows, and YouTube clips as the user goes about their daily lives.


Photo: JaysonPhotography / Shutterstock

As Orwellian as that sounds, Facebook swears they will “use the power responsibly”, and will never store the actual sound it gathers through the mic-listening app on servers that are connected to external networks.

Supposedly this should prevent the data pulled out of the air of our lives from being recaptured and exploited in the wild, however it seems the NSA revelations were just as much as a surprise to the social networking mogul as they were to anyone else, so exactly how much of a guarantee they can give on the subject still remains to be seen.

The company has said it owns the rights to algorithms designed to filter out the “noise” of our everyday existence, choosing instead to only focus on the content the company can use for advertising and marketing data, long known to be the center of its various bread and butter profit making schemes.

Facebook says they are more interested in the data they can use to sell CDs and DVDs with, rather than what you tell your significant other while your phone rests quietly on the bedside table next to the both of you.

Dr. Ilka Gleibs, a professor of social and organizational psychology at the London School of Economics, expressed her concerns not only about the state of this kind of surveillance as it exists today, but also what it could mean for similar ventures in the future if left totally unchecked.

“I think the most problematic element of this is that we don’t know with what data the sounds are matched,” she said in a statement. “As consumers, we have no control over whether data could be de-anonymized or what happens if third parties would like access to the data. It’s difficult to trust when messages are so mixed and we deal with so many unknowns.”

The announcement comes tightly on the heels of a sweeping set of changes to Facebook’s overall privacy policy, many of which were made in direct response to allegations that the NSA had been trawling Facebook’s servers for content to identify potential terrorists, find out their location, and even use their own system against itself while gathering deeper info like birthdates, phone numbers, and email contacts.

This isn’t the first time Facebook has come under fire for its less-than-stellar record for attempting to walk the fine line that exists between privacy and profitability, and if these types of implementations are any indication, we’re still a long ways out from this one being its last.

Luckily, the entire program is optional by default, and any user can choose to turn off the audio-capturing app through the privacy settings available on their phone.