Facebook Listens

Does the Facebook 'Identify TV and Music' app on your phone listen to and record your conversations?

Claim:   The Facebook 'Identify TV and Music' app listens to and records sounds through your phone.


Example:   [Collected via e-mail, May 2014]

Facebook just announced a new feature to its app, which will let it listen to our conversations through our own phones' microphone. Talk about a Big Brother move.

Facebook says the feature will be used for harmless things, like identifying the song or TV show playing in the background, but it actually has the ability to listen to everything — including your private conservations — and store it indefinitely.

Not only is this move just downright creepy, it's also a massive threat to our privacy. This isn't the first time Facebook has been criticized for breaching our right to privacy, and it's hoping this feature will fly under the radar. No such luck for Facebook. If we act now, we can stop Facebook in its tracks before it has a chance to release the feature.

Tell Facebook not to release its creepy and dangerous new app feature that listens to users' conversations.

Facebook says it'll be responsible with this feature, but we know we can't trust it. After all, just a few months ago Facebook came under fire for receiving millions of dollars for working with the National Security Agency's PRISM, a wide-scale and highly controversial public electronic data surveillance program — something its CEO Mark Zuckerberg initially denied. This is also the company that lied about its now-scuttered Beacon program — an advertisement system that sent our "private" data from external websites to Facebook.

It seems like every few months, there's another big Facebook privacy scandal, and yet the social media giant is pushing this new app anyway. Why? The information it gathers by listening to its 1.2 billion users worldwide can be sold for huge profits to advertisers and corporations looking for better information on consumer tastes and preferences.

Origins:   In May 2014 Facebook announced it would be rolling out an "Identify TV and Music" feature that would allow users who access the social media platform through their cell phones to identify and tag music or television programs playing in their area. When a user begins to compose a status update, Facebook will activate the phone's microphone, filter out live conversations, and try to detect and identify audio programming. If a matching song is found, Facebook will include a sample of the music in the status; if a matching television program is found, Facebook will label the specific season and episode "so you can avoid any spoilers":
When writing a status update — if you choose to turn the feature on — you'll have the option to use your phone's microphone to identify what song is playing or what show or movie is on TV.

That means if you want to share that you're listening to your favorite Beyoncé track or watching the season premiere of Game of Thrones, you can do it quickly and easily, without typing.

If you share music, your friends can see a 30-second preview of the song. For TV shows, the story in News Feed will highlight the specific season and episode you’re watching, so you can avoid any spoilers and join in conversations with your friends after you've caught up.
Facebook says the digital fingerprinting feature will be opt-in only, meaning users will have to give the program permission to start. Once activated, an icon on the face of the phone will indicate that the microphone is active and the phone is listening. Users who do opt in may still choose to turn off the feature on a post-by-post basis. (Audio fingerprinting will only be available in the United States and only via iOS and Android mobile apps; it will not function if Facebook is accessed through a browser.)

Facebook's announcement was later updated to address rumors that the new app would listen in on, and store, user conversations:
Myth: The feature listens to and stores your conversations.

Fact: Nope, no matter how interesting your conversation, this feature does not store sound or recordings. Facebook isn't listening to or storing your conversations.

Here's how it works: if you choose to turn the feature on, when you write a status update, the app converts any sound into an audio fingerprint on your phone. This fingerprint is sent to our servers to try and match it against our database of audio and TV fingerprints. By design, we do not store fingerprints from your device for any amount of time. And in any event, the fingerprints can't be reversed into the original audio because they don't contain enough information.

Myth: Facebook is always listening using your microphone.

Fact: Nope, if you choose to turn this feature on, it will only use your microphone (for 15 seconds) when you're actually writing a status update to try and match music and TV.

Last updated:   31 July 2014


    Hill, Kashmir.   "Facebook Wants To Listen in on What You're Doing."
    Forbes.   22 May 2014.

    Tate, Ryan.   "Facebook Will Soon Detect What You're Watching and Listening To."
    Wired.   21 May 2014.

    Tate, Ryan.   "Why Facebook Spent a Year Learning to Listen in on Your TV Shows."
    Wired.   22 May 2014.

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