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Facebook Denies 'Listening in' on Users' Microphone Chats

The Facebook app is seen on the screen of a mobile phone as the social media network denies 'listening in' on users' live conversations. | Photo: Reuters The Facebook app is seen on the screen of a mobile phone as the social media network denies 'listening in' on users' live conversations. | Photo: Reuters
Facebook has denied that the social network uses devices’ microphones to eavesdrop on private conversations in order to sell specific adverts tailored to the contents of users’ live chats.

Rob Goldman, vice-president of Facebook ads, stepped in to defend the tech giant after a podcast asked its Twitter followers to call in “if you believe that Facebook uses your mic to spy on you for ad reasons.”

PJ Vogt, who presents the Reply All tech podcast, was immediately inundated by tweeted responses ranging from the conspiratorial to the downright hilarious.

“Ideally we want people who have stories,” Vogt tweeted. “Like, ‘I was talking about how I needed a new rocket ship. I saw an ad for a rocket ship.’”

More than 200 followers reported anecdotal evidence supporting the conspiracy theory, claiming ads related to live conversations had begun to appear almost instantly in their Facebook feeds.

Twitter user Kelley Blythe posted: “I have been talking about getting a cat. I didn't post about it anywhere but I DID start seeing ads for cat food.”

Another user, Jeff Lin, tweeted: “I was at a friend's house and somebody was watching a documentary on Pentatonix. Never heard of them. Guess what ad showed up 2 hours later?”

And Morgan Crockett wrote: “I was talking to my friend about how I need a phone holder in the bathroom bcause our counter is small and I got this ad an hour later.” She then posted the video ad for – you guessed it – a gilded, flat-topped toilet-roll holder specifically designed to support mobile phones.

The social-media giant was swift to respond. First to comment was PR Adam Isserlis, who tweeted “I’ll just leave this here” and posted a link to a 2016 press release entitled “Facebook does not use your phone’s microphone for ads or news feed stories.”

"We show ads based on people's interests and other profile information – not what you're talking out loud about," the statement reads.

Then came Goldman, who wrote: “I run ads product at Facebook. We don't – and have never – used your microphone for ads. Just not true.”

Goldman later confirmed in a separate tweet that the same policy applies at Instagram, which is also owned by Facebook.

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