back to article Shhhh! Facebook is listening

Facebook wants to hear what you have to say. Literally. Professor Kelli Burns claims to have tested a hunch that the social media giant's mobile application is listening to everything you say and providing ads based on that content, and discovered it was true. The mass communication prof at the University of South Florida, …

  1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    'It may also be worth noting that before Professor Burns became an academic, she spent seven years in corporate marketing and the course she teaches is the "principles of public relations."'

    KidsAcademics these days!

  2. therebel

    "Android: Settings > Privacy and emergency > App permissions. Find Facebook and turn off mic access. ®"

    I've had many Android phones but never seen a privacy and emergency option.

    1. d3vy Silver badge

      On my htc its settings -> Apps -> Facebook -> permissions

      And looking in there it seems that the facebook app has never requested access to my microphone...

  3. Dave 126 Silver badge

    >Android: Settings > Privacy and emergency > App permissions. Find Facebook and turn off mic access

    That tip is a kind thought, but I suspect that option is limited to just some flavours of Android. Using the string Android Settings "Privacy and emergency" only returns results about Samsung phones. Darned fragmentation!

    AFAIK, being able to toggle permissions on an app by app basis is something that Google have toyed with in Android (remnants of the necessary framework have been spotted in the last few versions), and some vendor versions (e.g Xiaomi MIUI) incorporate such a feature.

    1. Gene Cash Silver badge

      > permissions on an app by app basis

      It's the most useful feature of Marshmallow. You've got to get something in return for it sucking your battery dry every 8 hours.

      1. Boothy

        Permission toggling is a standard option now on current Android (i.e. 6+), although not everyone seems to know about it even when they have it (or just don't care!).

        Settings > Apps > App you want to look at > Permissions.

        As an example, I don't have Facebook installed (or pre-installed, Nexus device), but I do have Facebook Messenger (all my friends use it), and it has toggles for Camera, Contacts, Location, Microphone, SMS, Storage & Telephone, all of which are disabled by default, and none of which have been switched on since it was installed, and the App still works fine for what I use it for.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Quote: You've got to get something in return for it sucking your battery dry every 8 hours.

        Nexus 5 owner by any chance? Me too :-/

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    10 Immutable Laws of Security

    Law 1: If a bad guy can persuade you to run his program on your computer, it's not your computer anymore.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Gates Horns

      Re: 10 Immutable Laws of Security

      Shhhh!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: 10 Immutable Laws of Security

      If a Spartan cuts off your arm, it's not your arm any more.

  5. OffBeatMammal

    those settings are only available in the latest Android flavours (assuming your OEM doesn't bork them.

    I install most apps now with very restricted permissions and only turn things on if something breaks because there's been too much abuse of trust

    1. Wade Burchette

      This is for Android 6.0 or later. Some options are also available in Cyanogenmod if your carrier and device manufacturer is too cheap or lazy to upgrade Android.

      If you do have Android 6 or Cyanogenmod, be sure to go through all the apps and turn off many unnecessary permissions. The microphone is a big one. Turn off location too except for a few special apps, i.e. map apps, weather radar. And then turn off all Google privacy settings, both on the Android and on Google's own privacy controls website.

      1. VinceH Silver badge

        Ditto Cyanogen OS - as supplied with the Wileyfox Storm (and the facility is probably there on the Swift as well).

        Settings -> Personal section -> Privacy -> Privacy Guard

        My policy is also to turn off everything initially, only enabling what I think an app should need to perform its function.

        1. Alumoi

          VinceH, you may also try out DisableService. It goes beyond privacy, letting you disable services within apps (even system apps).

    2. chasil

      Xprivacy

      I've rooted my phone, and loaded the Xposed framework.

      This allowed me to load Xprivacy, and deny the "sensors" privilege to Facebook.

      This configuration is compatible with many more OS releases, assuming that you can pry root access from your carrier and OEM.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How about when you use Facebag on Desktop Web-browser?

    With Flash before, you could kill off the Mic using Macromedia's control panel.

    But now with HTML5 and Firefox 4x / Chrome, what needs to happen, anyone know?

    1. anoco

      Re: How about when you use Facebag on Desktop Web-browser?

      Desktop > Hand > Pink Plug > Pull

      1. Mark 85 Silver badge

        Re: How about when you use Facebag on Desktop Web-browser?

        While you're at it, pull the camera plug also.

      2. Ru'
        Paris Hilton

        Re: How about when you use Facebag on Desktop Web-browser?

        "Desktop > Hand > Pink Plug > Pull"

        You forgot the "open up xhamster" step...

        1. Mpeler
          Paris Hilton

          Re: How about when you use Facebag on Desktop Web-browser?

          "You forgot the "open up xhamster" step..."

          He didn't have a free hand, so to speak.....

      3. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

        Re: How about when you use Facebag on Desktop Web-browser?

        Also, many headsets have a mic-mute switch.

        But then we have "smart" TVs becoming more common...

        It's an NSA wet dream coming true.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Privacy-Whack-a-mole: New Facebag Privacy Rape Settings:

    https://www.facebook.com/settings?tab=ads&section=fpd&view

    ========================================

    1. Just added this week and defaulting to 'on' of course:

    "Ads on apps and websites off of the Facebook Companies"

    "Adverts with my social actions"

    ========================================

    2.

    "Adverts based on my preferences"

    Older option, but no way to permanently disable, so this must be purged frequently. Just how are FB slurping with private-browsing, ad-blockers and hosts-blocking? Clearly its IP + Browser-Signature based. ... Fuckers....

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: Privacy-Whack-a-mole: New Facebag Privacy Rape Settings:

      It's a privacy option merry-go-round. They appear and disappear constantly and it's impossible for most people to keep on top of them and set the way they want.

      But all commentards here know this. The easiest way is not to have an account.

      1. Kevin Johnston Silver badge

        Re: Privacy-Whack-a-mole: New Facebag Privacy Rape Settings:

        Sadly I am continually hassled by SWMBO to have an account so I now have one....equally sadly I made some mistakes around my personal details when I created it but I did write them down so that's OK. Additionally it is on a FB-only VM on a laptop which wasn't being used as it has rippled down the capability stack so it got rebuilt with some Linux or other (didn't care which) and then a VM on top for the hell of it.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Zuck is Burke

    Ripley: You know, Burke, I don't know which species is worse. You don't see them fucking each other over for a goddamn percentage. (Aliens 1986)...

  9. CJC1027

    "And third, it only works when plugged in (although Apple has reportedly considered turning off the plugged-in restriction)"

    I understand that this depends on the hardware. The iPhone 6S hardware allows Siri to work at all times while the iPhone 5 hardware only allows Siri to work when the iPhone screen is on.

  10. Wade Burchette

    Dear Facebook:

    "Today I took to the streets to protest all the warrantless wiretapping the government is doing and to protest all the data collection the government is doing. But I can totally trust you. So in exchange for having this wonderful free service, I will gladly hand over all that information that the shadowy government agencies want and more because you are totally not going to use it for evil purposes. Tomorrow I will protest the evils of big businesses and how their huge markups are hurting the poor of the world. I just hope my iPhone battery will last long enough so that I can blog about this protest non-stop on Facebook. Signed, a naive Facebook user."

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Dear Facebook:

      All your data are belong to us!

  11. Number6

    My solution is that I refuse to have the FB app on my phone, along with most other apps. I'm sort of stuck with the Google crap but I do my best to review app permissions and have declined to install a few based on what they ask for and what I think they need.

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      My solution is that I refuse to have FB.

    2. VinceH Silver badge
      Unhappy

      "My solution is that I refuse to have the FB app on my phone"

      Yeah - but what about the people around you?

      I'd never install that Facebook shite on my phone, either - but if other people's phones have it, and if it does listen in, then it's still listening to conversations that involve me. Even if it doesn't know specifically who I am*, just some random third party.

      * currently - technology improves over time (while UIs seem to get worse, but that's another story!)

      1. Rich 11 Silver badge

        Re. But what about the people around you?

        Start interspersing your conversation with bursts of white noise and insist that everyone calls you Jeremy (unless your name really is Jeremy, in which case I suggest you insist that everyone calls you Jemima).

      2. Tony Paulazzo

        I'd never install that Facebook shite on my phone, either - but if other people's phones have it, and if it does listen in, then it's still listening to conversations that involve me. Even if it doesn't know specifically who I am

        Hey, that's my Intellectual Property you're stealing Facebook, is that even legal? I'm surprised Hollywood hasn't taken a hit out on Zuck (judging by the amount of people who don't put their phone in aeroplane mode whilst in the cinema).

    3. It wasnt me
      Thumb Down

      Sadly .....

      ..... It doesn't really matter. You also need to refuse to have friends. You can nail down your account as much as you like. But your clueless friends allow FB to upload their entire phonebook which includes your name, address, phone numbers, DOB etc. etc. It doesn't really matter what you do unless you have 100% control over your contacts. And non of us do.

      Really you're looking after your friends data, but they're not looking after yours.

      1. Mpeler
        Big Brother

        Re: Sadly .....

        And sadder still, Farcebork builds a blind profile of you, without your permission or knowledge, if you don't have a "real" one.

        Everytime you punch a "like" button, or visit a page with Farcebork code/bloatware/bugware in it, unless you have scripting turned off and Farcebork's IPs blocked, they get info on you.

        Total monitoring, total "influence", total control.

        But who will watch the watchers?

        Another bunch of crooks...

        And that's the saddest of all. Meet the new boss; same as the old boss.

        1. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

          Re: Sadly .....

          Talking about profiles..

          I was dismayed when G+ made a little exibition of all my theoretically publically accessible photos that used to only be available if you had the obscure Picasa link!

          Nothing very embarrassing there, but being an old skool human being, that don't expect private stuff being hang out for all to see, it was really annoying.

  12. AlexS
    Paris Hilton

    My mic was off by default on latest android. Perhaps they aren't interested in me after all.

    1. Martin Taylor 1

      For versions of Android prior to 5 (at least 4.3 and 4.4), there are apps like Permission Manager available on PlayStore. I unchecked "microphone" for FB, though the app tells me that permission has never been used.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Unhappy

    I used to be paranoid, but I'm not now

    I was just a little bit ahead of things.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Warrantless Wire Tap

    Umm, is this FB or the FBI we're talking about here?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Warrantless Wire Tap

      Must be their International branch.

  15. DougS Silver badge

    No need to turn it off on iOS, unless you deliberately turned it on previously

    The first time an app wants to access the microphone, it has to ask for permission. So if Facebook has been given permission to access it on an iPhone, it is because you granted that permission yourself.

    IIRC didn't Android 6.0 finally allow users to disable permissions for apps post-installation? As that version starts reaching more phones in the next few years apps won't be able to pull this kind of crap (even if Facebook isn't doing it, you can be damn sure some Android apps are)

    1. mahood

      Re: No need to turn it off on iOS, unless you deliberately turned it on previously

      That explains why when I went to turn it off the option wasn't even there... I must have been asked once, said 'hell no' and so now I can't even enable it. I assume there's a way to try and do something in the app which needs microphone access, which will pop up the prompt again.

      I do appreciate how iOS makes every app ask for each permission individually, rather than just 'this app needs all this, you want to run it or what?'

    2. Boothy

      Re: No need to turn it off on iOS, unless you deliberately turned it on previously

      Quote: "IIRC didn't Android 6.0 finally allow users to disable permissions for apps post-installation?"

      It's the other-way round. All permissions are denied/off by default, and you are then prompted to grant an individual permission when the app tries to use that permission. You can allow, or deny at that point, and the app is required to gracefully accept your option (i.e. don't bomb out if someone says no, or stop the rest of the app working because you denied one permission).

      If you change your mind later, you can just go into Apps > 'App name' > Permissions, and toggle the permissions off again.

  16. wolfetone Silver badge

    This Settles It

    Time to dust off the Nokia 3310 and stick two fingers up to this crap. The whole "You can turn it off" argument is crap, it shouldn't be on in the first place and we should be asked before this crap is turned on.

    And hell, if Nokia have been doing it since the 3310 I'm going to go get myself a carrier pigeon.

    1. Esme

      Re: This Settles It

      There's always the power off switch and a pocket/purse-sized Faraday cage..

    2. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

      Re: This Settles It

      You'll be needing this:

      https://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc1149.txt

      1. wolfetone Silver badge

        Re: This Settles It

        "You'll be needing this:

        https://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc1149.txt"

        The irony of using IP over Avian Carrier to view photos of cats.

  17. Rich 11 Silver badge

    "We use your microphone to identify the things you're listening to or watching, based on the music and TV matches we're able to identify."

    Like that's not just as creepy.

  18. JimmyPage Silver badge
    Stop

    Fuck the privacy

    what about the battery ?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Fuck the privacy

      and data usage?

  19. Updraft102 Silver badge

    A strange game. The only winning move is not to play.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Ah yes, but that's where the clever bit of Facebook comes in: the victims have now moved their social interactions to this anything but social media, and everyone else has done the same.

      The only winning move is thus never to start, because - like smoking and drugs - it's a heck of a lot harder afterwards.

      BTW, if you really must use a messenger app, use Telegram. Fewer people listening.

      1. TeeCee Gold badge
        Facepalm

        ....use Telegram. Fewer people listening.

        Last on that round here was that world+dog was listening in to it, courtesy of it being written by Russian s'kiddies who thought rolling their own crypto would be kewlness!!11!!!

  20. razorfishsl

    A husband is with his wife, she asks can she suck his dick.

    afterwards husband receives gay porn to his phone.

    AI logic =man owns phone.

    AI logic= heard dick sucking.

    if only IT was so simple

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "she asks can she suck his dick"

      What planet are you from?

  21. JimmyPage Silver badge
    Big Brother

    You *can't* "opt out" of Facebook

    (unless you know no-one online).

    Even if you don't join Facebook, by the time a few friends have, and Facebook has worked out who you are (because your email address is in their contacts list) Facebook doesn't need you anymore. It knows you exist, and can probably have a good stab at your age, sex, location and interests.

    And you never went near it.

  22. d3vy Silver badge

    OK, I get it people don't want facebook listening to them, however I don't see the issue with targeted advertising.

    If I am talking about going on holiday to florida I'd rather see adverts for holidays popping up on my news feed than some randomly selected crap that I have no interest in.

    Its very unlikely that I would click on an advert even if relevant as I am capable of searching for things that I want on my own.

  23. Rol Silver badge

    Un duress and show us everything you've got, because you have no choice.

    Many many articles ago, we were debating how the FBI had messed up an attempt to fish for paedos, because they hadn't approached the correct chief clacker, yet FB, with its T&C's has no problems in sucking up everything it sees and hears.

    Perhaps a change will come about, when your A5 sized birth certificate suddenly becomes an epic tome of T&C's of citizenship, where the state has a FB style carte blanche right to intrude into your life, as much as it cares to.

    I see no difference, if you want to use MS, Apple, FB or be a citizen of USA, it all boils down to accepting the unacceptable.

  24. Howard Hanek Bronze badge
    Headmaster

    It's Unfair I Tell You!

    A plot by British Public Schools to rule the world using all those ancient language skills that have been rendered useless for anything but conspiracies.

  25. Alistair Silver badge
    Windows

    Does anyone else here use

    Tinfoil for facebook?

  26. nilfs2
    Headmaster

    You deserve it

    If you are a facebook user you deserve this

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Has verified" ... "Purely anecdotal" ... "May have"

    The academic mind at its finest.

    Would it have hurt so much to do a few more experiments?

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