MILWAUKEE -- A story making the rounds online suggests that the Facebook app on your phone is listening to everything you say in an effort to serve up related ads in your newsfeed. It all started with this local news report (which is a terrible tech report - chock full of misleading and downright false information), but now everyone is wondering if the social network is secretly spying on them.
The short answer is no. Facebook is not listening to you 24/7, but it can identify audio when you are composing a status update. The feature is primarily used to identify the song, TV show or movie you're listening to in the background so you can include it in your status update.
Facebook even went so far as to publish a blog post to insist it does not listen to what you are saying. Here's the text:
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.
I was able to activate the song ID feature on my Android phone but not on my iPhone. It's supposed to happen automatically, in the background, but it seems as if you have to click the "Feeling/Activity" option inside the status update compose box to activate the feature. Then you will see a little moving audio icon in the upper right hand corner to let you know the listening feature is active.
Of course, if you're still not convinced, you can manually turn off Facebook's access to your phone's microphone.
On Android, go into SETTINGS > APPS > FACEBOOK > PERMISSIONS and turn off the slider for "microphone."
On iOS, go into SETTINGS > PRIVACY > MICROPHONE and turn off the slider for "Facebook."
Just keep in mind you will no longer be able to use some Facebook functions like broadcasting live video.