Did you know that behind the scenes, the tech giants are waging endless patent wars against each other? Either for securing royalties for emerging technologies, protection from patent trolls or plain old innovation, tons of patent applications are submitted every day.
Facebook, for example, has already filed thousands of patent applications since it went public in 2012. From analyzing your emotions via your selfie camera to predicting major life events like death, the patent applications reveal Facebook's plans to track almost every aspect of its users' behaviors.
Although Facebook claims that these patent applications are not indications of its future plans, we can't blame you if you're suspicious of the social media giant's motives in this post-Cambridge Analytica world.
Does Facebook want to quietly judge your TV habits?
One of the Facebook patent applications that caught the public's eye (and ire) recently was its proposed system of analyzing "broadcast content" (from a TV, for example) by a "client device" (such as your phone.)
This application describes a system where ultrasonic sounds that can't be perceived by a human ear are embedded into TV or computer ads to gauge engagement.
Although these sounds are inaudible to you and me, these high-frequency sounds can be picked up by a smartphone or tablet's microphone.
Do you hear what I hear?
In Facebook's patent application, when the "client device" hears the "Morse code-style" sounds, it will start capturing background audio. Facebook describes this as "distinct and subtle sounds of a particular location."
This may include "machinery noise, the sound of distant human movement and speech, creaks from thermal contraction, and air conditioning and plumbing noises in a household." These sound data are analyzed to generate a user's "ambient audio footprint."
Using this footprint to filter out the ambient noise, the secret high-frequency sounds can then let advertisers know whether a person watched through an ad or walked away from it.
How? It's simple really. If the sounds are muffled or distant, it suggests that the viewer is far away from the TV. If the sounds are loud and clear, it means that the user stayed put and sat through the ad.
This obviously has huge marketing potential since it will help advertisers gauge how many people are actually watching their content, and in turn, Facebook can use the data to serve targeted ads more accurately and efficiently.
Do you have or did you just get a “smart” TV? Most new models have smart technology, which means your TV will connect to the internet. It also means you’re a target for hackers. Listen to my Komando On Demand FREE podcast to hear why you should be worried and what you can do about it.
Is Facebook always listening?
With all the talk about always-listening gadgets, this patent application won't help Facebook's case at all.
Facebook has always been accused of listening through a smartphone's microphone for advertising purposes but the company has always denied these claims.
If you're still creeped out with all of this, here's how you turn off Facebook's smartphone mic access. It's actually quite easy!
If you are an iPhone user, go to Settings >> Facebook >> Settings >> slide the Microphone switch to the left so it turns from green to white. That turns it off.
Alternatively, you can go to Settings >> Privacy >> Microphone >> look for Facebook then do the same. Note that you can toggle the mic on and off for other apps, too.
For Android users: Try Settings >> Applications >> Application Manager >> look for Facebook >> Permissions >> Turn off the mic.
Important: Keep in mind that turning off Facebook's microphone access will affect and disable specific features of the app such as Live Video. If you're going to use these features, you will have to toggle the mic back on.
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In related news, Facebook quiz app exposed the data of 120 million people for years!
Facebook's Cambridge Analytica scandal reminded us how these seemingly harmless and fun quizzes and apps can be trojan horses for massive data collection. Take this popular third-party Facebook quiz app, for example. It looks like it has been leaking user information for years! Click here to read the full story.