Facebook has plans for software which forces smartphones to record audio – despite years of denials that its app records conversations.
The plan, in a patent application filed on June 14 this year, revolves around secret signals embedded in TV ads.
The signals, inaudible to the human ear, force the phone’s microphone to activate.
By recording audio, advertisers can hear whether a family is actually listening to TV adverts – and isn’t, Facebook says, intended to let Mark Zuckerberg listen in on our private conversation.
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The patent application says, ‘This patent application explores using your phone microphone to identify the television shows you watched and whether ads were muted. It also proposes using the electrical interference pattern created by your television power cable to guess which show is playing.’
Facebook says that it applies for patents on a variety of ideas, many of which don’t become products, and that it’s data use policy means that customers are always informed about how their data will be used.
In questions from American politicians this year, Mark Zuckerberg flatly denied that Facebook listens to phone microphones to target adverts at users.
Senator Gary Peters said, ‘Yes or no, does Facebook use audio obtained from mobile devices to enrich personal information about users?’
‘No,’ said Zuckerberg.
People often claim that Facebook has begun to display adverts after they said something near a mobile – but Facebook has always denied this.
Experts suggest that these ‘coincidences’ are caused by a sort of confirmation bias known as Frequency Illusion – where you learn about something, and then start seeing it everywhere.
Rob Goldman, the company’s vice president of advertising, said in 2017, ‘I run ads product at Facebook. We don’t – and have never – used your microphone for ads. Just not true.’