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Is Facebook listening to your conversations?

 - Alright, we're going to do it. We're going to talk about Facebook, and the fact that lot of you think the company company islistening to your conversations, even when you aren't using the app. Like, the one time my friend mentioned a random musical to me, and I saw an ad for itin my Instagram feed later that night. Facebook owns Instagram, by the way, if you weren't aware. I don't even go to musicals, so this was a superweird ad for me to see. Which leads me to the question is Facebook tapping our microphones to listen in on everything we say, to then, serve us ads. - Yes or no. Does Facebook use audioobtained from mobile devices to enrich personalinformation about it's users? - No. - While I believe that Facebook isn't listening to our conversations, it has previously screwed up user privacy, particularly, with it'sCambridge Analytica scandal. So it's always good to be skeptical of what the company says and what it does. Every expert I talked to for this video believes Facebook isn't listening. Actual evidence proves it isn't, too. But the scary thing isyou produce so much data that Facebook probably doesn'teven need your microphone to learn everything about you. Now, let's dive in. To answer whether Facebookis tapping your microphone, we need to answer two main things.


One, is it even technically feasible for Facebook to tap billionsof people's microphones and parse all their voice data to then determine who is speaking and about what and to. Why would they want to do this, anyway, and would it really be that lucrative? On the technical side, yes, it is totally possible for Facebook to manage this voice data. Nigel Cannings, a co-founder and CTO of the company called Intelligent Voice, says all that's reallyneeded to parse voice data is serious processing power, which Facebook likely has. - All of the technology exists today. It would be a very feasibletechnical challenge for a large tech company to undertake. - And figuring out whatyou're saying is super easy. - What's been said and what it means are extremely simple. - Determining who's talkingvaries in difficulty, depending on the circumstances. Like, if you're callingfrom your Facebook account, it's pretty easy tofigure out who's speaking and attribute that datato that specific person. - The ability to distinguish me as a British male of a particular age just from my voice is very simple. And to distinguish you as an American woman of a particular age is pretty simple. - For example, Facebook could easily tell that I'm the one talkingabout Oreos or whatever else if I'm calling someonefrom my Facebook account.


 However, a stray microphone conversation isn't as easy to attribute, and this is what most peopleare probably worried about. Let's say you're havinglunch with a friend and at least 20 otherpeople are around you. Facebook would probably struggle to figure out who's talking. Cannings says thecompany would likely need additional metadata to narrow the field. It could easily determine the age and sex of the person talkingjust from their voice. So if it could also figureout geolocation data, which Facebook and Instagram collect, it could then get closer to figuring out which user is talking. If Facebook set up a specific geo-fence, it could even further narrow its options by identifying everyone else in the area, and then matching voice dataup against its user base. - We're spewing geolocationdata all the time. So if I could narrow it down to, say, a thousand people inthe particular geo-fence, then, if you we're recordingsomething on your phone, I've got access to that. And I also knew the biometric profiles of the other thousandpeople in that geo-fence, I could do a pretty good jobof working out that it was you. - But Facebook is a massiveplatform with billions of users. If you're in a dense city like New York, with me and millions of other residents, this would likely be a difficult task. In a small town, it'dprobably be possible, but also would requirea decent amount of work just to figure out howto target you with ads.


 If I was trying to match it against the hundred million or billionother people on my platform, then, no, I couldn't. So it's still a matter of scale. The ability to do one to many matchings on biometrics exists, but the more peopleyou throw into the pot, the less accurate it becomes. - Alright. So let's say Facebook could listen to and recognize individuals. Does it actually need to? If the company isn'tlistening in like it says, then, how are we all gettingsuch scary on point ads? Is voice data even worth collecting? - I actually think that voice data probably gives up moreinformation about ourselves than most any other sort of data. Because not only have you gotthe contents of what's said, you've also got a very richseam of emotionally content that goes with it, as well. - Facebook has access to something even better than voice data, everything else that you do. I called Andres Arrieta,the Tech Products Manager at the Electronic Frontier Foundation to chat about Facebook'stracking technology. - They have so much data on us that they don't need toturn on the microphone.

 Let's run through the things Facebook likely already knows about us. It knows your location becauseof where you say you live, but also the location tracking permissions you give the company's app. It knows yourself-identified demographics, what you look like becauseof the photos you upload, your family members and friends, and, crucially, your browsing habits. Facebook uses its ad tracking technology, called the Facebook Pixel, to follow you around the web and keep tabs on wherever you end up. This pixel, which website ownerscan build onto their sites, helps advertisers figure out if their Facebook adshave been successful. Oh, and you know those Like buttons you see on every single website? Those track you, too. Facebook has even been able to identify user's sexual preferences based on the sites they visit. That's how the company accidentally outed gay usersto advertisers years ago. - This goes much more further than just uploading a simple profile and showing you what type of beer or what motorcycle you want to buy. This is about your really,really personal relationships and things that you mighthave not shared with others.


 Facebook tracks user'sIRL purchase history, too. - They do buy your credit history. We tend to think of online tracking as something that is contained online, but it's no longer contained online. They're putting all these other sources, online and offline, together to reveal our complete lives. - It uses this data in the aggregate to anonymously verify that it'sads actually drive sales up. Suffice it to say, thecompany knows a lot about you. You can witness ad trackersin the wild through plugins like the Electronic FrontierFoundation's Privacy Badger, which shows all the third party trackers keeping tabs on you. It says The Verge has morethan one hundred trackers, which is kind of not a good look for us, but you also don't payus for this content. And that's why Arrieta thinks Facebook isn't listeningto our conversations. But, if you require more hard evidence, the EFF even proved that thecompany wasn't listening to us in a news segment with CBS where it monitored trafficfrom a user's phone. It didn't see any audiorecordings going to Facebook.


Andres thinks that maybepeople notice ads more after they've talkedabout a specific topic. - Most of the time, it's because we sometimes actually don'tpay attention to the ads. And it's totally possible that that ad had been playing before, but because it's such a smallbrand, you never noticed. - I know that possible explanationisn't totally satisfying, but in some ways, it's scarier. Facebook knows everything about you without needing your microphone. If you're concerned about ad tracking, and Facebook in particular, you could delete your account, which also means deletingWhatsApp and Instagram. Sorry about it. You could also try anad tracking extension like Privacy Badger, which lets you turn off ad trackers. Arrieta suggests using different browsers and diversifying where you search so that companies can't builda complete profile of you. You could also enable DoNot Track in your browser which asks websites to not track you.

 They don't have to honoryour request, though. Generally, we all have to come to terms with the fact that ads power the internet. It's reality at this point. And until we startpaying for every service, or we drastically rethink ad technology, we're stuck with it. Maybe I'll put a love ya in there, too. Just for--- [Woman] Love ya. - Love ya (laughs). - [Woman] Yeah, all of those. - Alright, so let's say Facebook could. - (laughs) Sorry. - Lauren Grush (laughs). - Blame Angela, she puts (laughs). 

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