'Creepy' Facebook Feature Listens to Your Activity

Brandon Dimmel's picture

Facebook is facing a serious backlash over a new feature that allows it to listen in on its smartphone users. When activated, the feature uses the device's microphone to detect a user's activity and automatically updates their "status" accordingly.

For example, if a user is listening to a new U2 album on their stereo in the background, Facebook will use a smartphone's microphone to update a user's status to "Listening to U2". It can also detect movies and television shows and update a user's status to read "Watching Iron Man" or "Watching Mad Men".

According to Facebook, the feature is only activated when a user is composing a status update.

Facebook Microphone Listening Feature "Downright Creepy"

This isn't the first application to use a smartphone's microphone to identify media. Shazam, an app that was released more than a decade ago, uses a microphone to show a user the artist, song title, and album of a detected song.

That said, Facebook's listening feature takes things a step further by updating a user's profile status automatically. That has led thousands of users to slam the new feature as "creepy" and a "Big Brother move". (Source: com.au)

Some users were so upset that they started an online petition in hopes of convincing Facebook to kill the feature. "Facebook says the feature will be used for harmless things, like identifying the song or TV show playing in the background, but by using the phone's microphone every time you write a status update, it has the ability to listen to everything," the petition reads.

"Not only is this move just downright creepy, it's also a massive threat to our privacy. The feature is opt-in, but many won't even read the warnings. If we act now, we can stop Facebook in its tracks before it has a chance to release the feature."

Those behind the petition are seeking 750,000 signatures. As of this past Monday midday, they were closing in on 600,000. (Source: sumofus.org)

Eavesdropping Information Anonymized, Facebook Insists

For its part, Facebook says it's easy to opt out of the program, thereby ensuring that users' information is not linked to their accounts.

"If you don't choose to post and the feature detects a match, we don't store match information except in an anonymized form that is not associated with you ... We turn the audio it hears into a code -- code that is not reversible into audio -- and then we match it against a database of code," noted Facebook spokesperson Momo Zhou.

Although the feature is clearly unpopular with a large segment of Facebook's user base, experts suggest it could prove very lucrative in attracting marketers and driving up Facebook's advertising revenue. (Source: news.com.au)

What's Your Opinion?

Do you think that the Facebook microphone listening feature is too intrusive, as the petition suggests? Or do you think concerned Facebook users should just shut the feature off and forget about it? Would you ever use or want this kind of feature on your smartphone?

Rate this article: 
Average: 5 (9 votes)


DavidFB's picture

Sorry but the complaints are a little lame. This is what Facebook does - it tracks user activity and compiles information for advertisers. Has the one feature gone too far? Or is this just the latest in a series of things that treat users as commodities to mine.

Privacy is an oxymoron with Facebook - it's not possible given the way its designed - and not just on Facebooks site. Even this site lets you log in with facebook credentials, for example. And many others have facebook beacons that track your browsing.

Oh look - this page has AddThis icons with Scorecard Research beacons... you don't have to click for them to know you've been here.

ronangel's picture

Will the system know the difference between a person who has a bad chest cold or flu and one that is watching an adult movie? This is something we need to know, as I have chest problems.

stekcapofni's picture

All new Facebook features should require Opting-In. Instead of the user finding out about the feature too late (if at all) and having to Opt-Out.

Sparkydog's picture

Echelon has been doing this for 20 years, if you have a land-line or cell phone, they can use the receiver as a bug and listen or use certain key words to pick up conversations.
As for cellphones, search, using BING about the Harris Corporation/Stingray and how it is being used to monitor cellphones. The Obama Admin is trying to keep it a secret that law enforcement is using this to bypass using cell providers to get information.