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Security & privacy

Is Facebook eavesdropping on your conversations to send targeted ads?

Have you ever had an ad show up on your computer about a shoe brand you were just discussing with your friends? How about sponsored Facebook posts about celebrities you were just talking about with your co-workers over the water cooler?

All these targeted ads can get creepy, too creepy sometimes, and some people are suggesting that this data is being gathered in the sneakiest way – via the Facebook app “listening” to your conversations through your phone’s microphone.

New allegations

Now, this “Facebook mic spying” issue is back in the public eye after PJ Vogt of the podcast “Reply All” recently tweeted: “Reply All is taking phone calls today. Call us if you believe that Facebook uses your mic to spy on you for ad reasons.”


Rob Goldman, Facebook’s VP of Ads, replied to the tweet with this: “I run ads product at Facebook. We don’t – and have never – used your microphone for ads. Just not true.”


Goldman also stated the same is true with another Facebook-owned social media site, Instagram.

Not the first time

If you can recall, Facebook also denied these claims last year when mass communication professor Kelli Burns accused Facebook of the same thing.

She claimed that Facebook is gathering information and shows you ads based on the conversations you’re having. Click here to read the full story.

Facebook insists that its advertisements are strictly based on a user’s likes, interests, and other profile information.

According to Facebook’s official statement addressing these accusations:

“Facebook does not use your phone’s microphone to inform ads or to change what you see in News Feed. 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.

“We only access your microphone if you have given our app permission and if you are actively 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.”

How to turn off your Facebook app’s mic

Although all the evidence supporting the allegations that the Facebook app is “listening” through your phone’s microphone for advertising purposes is purely anecdotal, it’s still your choice if you want to disallow it or any other app from accessing your mic. 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.

On Android Marshmallow: Go to Settings > > swipe to Personal >> Privacy and safety >> App permissions > > “Microphone” >> Look for Facebook then slide it to OFF.

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.

How to control your apps’ permissions

Do you want more control over what your apps can access? Check out this tip about granting app permissions.

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