Facebook has come in for plenty of adverse publicity in recent times, but the idea that Facebook is listening to you seems a bit farfetched, doesn’t it? Have you ever discussed plans to do something over the weekend or make a new purchase and then hours late you receive adverts for that very same thing? Just coincidence? Well, the fact that so many people have experienced the phenomena does make you question as to whether there really is something behind the suggestions.

As a Facebook Marketing company in Bangkok, we believe that we have to investigate more and determine whether there is any truth behind the allegations. We discovered that the first suggestions that Facebook was listening to conversations went back to 2014 when Facebook added a music listening feature to their smartphone app. Here is the story, along with our thoughts.

The history behind the claims

It was back in May 2014 when Facebook launched a new feature that could recognise music that was being played in the background. Naturally, the app required access to your phone’s microphone to detect this. The function was intended to pick up music and not people’s conversations, or so it was claimed. While some thought that is was a fantastic addition to the app, others weren’t as enthused and thought the feature as an invasion of privacy.

Facebook music

The controversy had begun, and Facebook was forced to release a statement categorically denying that they were listening to conversations. It was a statement that would need to be repeated several times in the forthcoming years.

In June 2016, the company were against to state that the microphone was not used to garner information for “the purposes of advertising”. The denials went further and became almost desperate, saying “We show ads based on people’s interests and other profile information — not what you’re talking out loud about.”

NBC News 

Again in 2016, NBC and a professor conducted an experiment whereby the interviewer enabled the microphone on her Facebook app. During the interview, the pair briefly discussed going on safari. Sixty seconds later, she open Facebook and the first story (or ad), was regarding going on a safari. For many, this evidence and the test were conclusive, although again the allegations were denied by Facebook.

Facebook before congress

In 2018, Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook CEO, was called to congressional hearings to answer questions regarding “spying” on users. Although the senators asking the questions, Gary Peters, in particular, did all they could to demonstrate their lack of knowledge and many regarded to hearings as “shambolic” they still raised some very pertinent questions. Asking questions regarding the mining of audio by Facebook, Zuckerberg defended the company rigorously saying that the allegations were a “conspiracy theory”.

Mark Zuckerburg

During further questioning, Zuckerberg made a very plausible suggestion that people look on websites to get information about things that they are talking about. Many stated that the conspiracy theories were fuelled by paranoia and that there was plenty of evidence to support this suggestion. Equally, others were far less convinced and felt that the denials pour fuel onto the flames.

Facebook gives people reasons to be paranoid!

As Facebook jumps from one scandal to another such as Cambridge Analytica, losing data or mishandling data, the company, through its actions, has created an intense feeling of mistrust. In 2019, there were further allegations that Facebook was transcribing chats. It is without question that people are losing trust in Facebook, but Instagram and WhatsApp seem to get off lightly but could be equally as guilty, even if it is just via association. Of course, this brought yet more denials.

Why Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp PROBABLY aren’t listening

Firstly, there are all the legal implications involved with listening to and recording audio recordings without permission. The conversations would almost certainly need to be recorded to store to the information in order to process it. In reality, the amount of processing that would be required to dissect natural conversations to produce relevant ads would be immense. Serving ads in this way is unlikely to be possible and if it is, is it cost-effective?

Of course, on top of the legal implications and the practicalities, there is the most damming piece of evidence yet. Facebook has collected far more information about you over the weeks; months and years building up to your “conversation” than it could ever gain from a single random conversation. Basically, in the grand scheme of things, listening to conversations is of little interest to Facebook and is way down their list of targeted marketing techniques.

Users volunteer information

Although the mere possibility that Facebook could be listening to conversations enough to have many users claiming breaches of civil liberties and even more extreme claims, the fact that people volunteer information every time they use the app appears to go unnoticed. The user expresses their mood, what they have bought and who you may know. This information is far more valuable to Facebook as can be proved by the number of ads that are relevant to your interests. Facebook can gather a plethora of data from all across the internet, and this should be more of a concern.

Benefits of social media

With all the concerns that are flying around, it is worth keeping things in perspective and remembering all the benefits associated with social media. You can stay in touch with friends around the world, make new friends, use it to promote your business like never before and search for things that you never thought imaginable! Facebook has many benefits, so don’t write it off just yet!

Are you still concerned?

If you are still concerned that Facebook is listening to your conversations, the best thing to do is to deny Facebook access to your microphone. It is easily done from within the app on both Apple and Android devices. Just go into your privacy settings and select disable. Of course, if this isn’t enough for you, you could always delete the app entirely!

More information

If you would like more information on the benefits of social media for you and your business, contact us on 02 038 5400.


  • Published on : Tuesday August 11, 2020
  • Last updated : Thursday April 7, 2022

About the author

As the managing partner for Phoenix Media, Rob brings over 10 years’ experience in digital marketing and running successful agencies in the UK, Australia and Thailand. Starting in a sales role he has covered all aspects of the agency from sales and service to technical ad operations. Reach him directly on rob@phoenixmedia.co.th

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