When your phone really does listen back
People who are convinced that Facebook listens to them through their phone have received some ammunition to their largely debunked argument.
Essentially, La Liga bugged its fans’ phones to bust content pirates. Clearly, this broke data protection laws, even though La Liga said no human ever listened to the audio, and users had the ability to opt out by not allowing the app to use their phone’s location or microphone.
Obviously, this is an invasion of privacy and a deceitful practice that abuses La Liga’s relationship with its fans. However, it would be unwise to use it as proof apps like Facebook are listening to conversations to help target ads.
One common argument against this theory is that the data and battery power required to keep the microphone open and sending audio to a server would make it impractical. The La Liga app’s approach of recording targeted snippets of audio in certain contexts might work. Facebook could tell when you’re close to other Facebook users, for example and open the microphone to collect a small part of a conversation and identify keywords.
Facebook has shown time and again it has little respect for user privacy, but would it really deny repeatedly over years it was engaging in an illegal practice that it really was, while operating as a public company?
Short of a smoking gun, I’m sticking by the argument that ad tech is now so all-seeing that it doesn’t need to listen to you to have a good idea what’s on your mind before you do (in some cases, at least).
Either way, if La Liga is doing it, this won’t be in-house tech and plenty of other apps may well be doing similar things for various reasons. The best defence is to simply make sure only apps that have a real need to access your microphone can do so. Check your phone’s settings to make sure this is the case.