Facebook denies spying on users, sending recorded data to advertisers

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MENLO PARK, Calif. — Reddit lit up in a particularly active fashion over the weekend as Facebook users spread personal stories of what they allege is snooping by the social media service.

The long lingering rumors that a smartphone’s microphone is accessed by the company to record audio and listen to everything said has been repeatedly disputed by officials with Facebook.

University of South Florida professor Kelli Burns was initially cited in 2016 as reporting that she had tested the theory by talking about topics within earshot of her phone and was then shown related ads on Facebook.

Burns denied there was any scientific research behind her claims and noted that her experience might have been anecdotal.

But that didn’t stop users across the internet from sharing what they say are similar experiences. Burns also said her comments had been blown out of proportion.

Facebook officially denied the claims in 2016, saying, “Facebook does not use your phone’s microphone to inform ads or to change what you see in News Feed,” the company wrote.

The 2014 Facebook feature “Identify TV and Music” allowed a smartphone’s microphone to identify what song or TV show a user was listening to. That information was then automatically inserted into a status update.

The social media giant said it can access a user’s microphone, but only if the user explicitly gives permission.

Even with permission, the company says that eavesdropping for advertisers is not part of the company’s end game.

“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,” the company wrote in a blog post.

A tech podcast host, PJ Vogt, recently reignited the simmering controversy by encouraging people calling in to tell of their own experiences of possible spying.

Facebook’s president of ads, Rob Goldman, attempted to put the claims to bed with a tweet.

“I run ads product at Facebook. We don’t – and have never – used your microphone for ads. Just not true,” he tweeted.

There is a quick fix for those concerned that the conspiracy actually rings true: Deny the app access to your phone’s microphone.

That modification can be made in the built-in “Settings” application on smartphones.

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