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Zuckerberg: Facebook Doesn't Use Your Mic For Ad Targeting (engadget.com) 257

During today's joint hearing before the Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees, CEO Mark Zuckerberg fully denied the idea that Facebook listens in on your conversations via microphones to display relevant ads. Engadget reports: Senator Gary Peters (D-MI) asked him to answer "yes or no" whether Facebook used audio from personal devices to fill out its ad data, and Zuckerberg said no. The CEO explained that users can upload videos with audio in them, but not the kind of background spying that you've probably heard people talk about. Peters: "I have heard constituents say Facebook is mining audio from their mobile devices for the purpose of ad targeting. This speaks to the lack of trust we are seeing. I understand there are technical and logistical issues for that to happen. For the record, I hear it all the time, does Facebook use audio obtained from mobile devices to enrich personal information about its users?"

Zuckerberg: "We do not. Senator, Let me be clear on this. You are talking about the conspiracy theory passed around that we listen to what is going on on your microphone and use that. We do not do that. We do allow people to take videos on their device and share those. Videos also have audio. We do, while you are taking a video, record that and use that to make the service better by making sure that you have audio. That is pretty clear."

Zuckerberg: Facebook Doesn't Use Your Mic For Ad Targeting

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  • "We do, while you are taking a video, record that and use that to make the service better by making sure that you have audio. That is pretty clear"

    Not clear at all.
    • by Restil ( 31903 )

      Sounds like he's making the point that when the user records a video, audio is likely included with the video, the audio is in fact recorded in that situation and submitted to facebook, and facebook might use the audio from that user submitted recording for quality control purposes. Quality control purposes may or may not include targeting more reasonable advertising.

    • I guess after every few seconds of taking a video we want to switch to a wall of text.

    • The video is better by having audio with it.
  • Except they do (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 11, 2018 @03:11AM (#56416571)

    They really do, at least on Android devices. Everybody can test that at home.
    Install facebook messenger and the facebook app on your phone. Talk about a brand that you otherwise don't talk about.
    You WILL have ads for that the next day you open up a webpage.

    • Re:Except they do (Score:5, Interesting)

      by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Wednesday April 11, 2018 @05:37AM (#56416855) Journal
      New Statesman did that and wasn't able to show any change in advertising as a result of talking near the phone [newstatesman.com]. That said, this doesn't mean that they won't use recorded audio in the future and it doesn't mean that they didn't temporarily disable this feature when it started to get a lot of press.
      • New Statesman did that and wasn't able to show any change in advertising as a result of talking near the phone [newstatesman.com]. That said, this doesn't mean that they won't use recorded audio in the future and it doesn't mean that they didn't temporarily disable this feature when it started to get a lot of press.

        Zuck's outfit is certainly not alone in this, but the fact The Facebook has the ability to listen when they deem it appropriate is troublesome enough. At this point, we basically have to trust an information-gathering juggernaut not to use this ability to ever gather information about us.

        As others have wisely pointed out, listening all the time to everyone is not technologically feasible, yet the threat of a targeted listening campaign looms very possible and extremely likely to occur.

        • Android needs a permission called record audio under the control of an app or something similar. Maybe a permission prompt for recording audio at all which expires quickly.

      • I'm the last person to want to defend Faacebook. But across a user base of 2 billion people, just by random chance alone some of them will see ads related to something they talked about recently next to an electronic device. Facebook represents such a huge sampling population that if you allow self-selection [wikipedia.org], even rare phenomenon will pop out due to self-selection bias.
      • it doesn't mean that they didn't temporarily disable this feature when it started to get a lot of press.

        Probably this exactly. Facebook got some press for using the speaker in your phone and mic in other devices to send out inaudible tones used for ad tracking purposes. Facebook says they’ve stopped allowing this and, true to their word, it stopped happening for about a year or so. Now? I can be listening to something on my phone, open up facebook and scroll for a bit and then all the sudden my audio stops playing. When I pull up the hidden toggle to see audio status it is playing an inaudbile tr

    • Re:Except they do (Score:5, Informative)

      by asylumx ( 881307 ) on Wednesday April 11, 2018 @05:56AM (#56416903)
      I tried it. It didn't work. Myth debunked?
    • by Zocalo ( 252965 )
      That gaming of the system does seem to work on Android at least some of the time (it's definitely not guaranteed that it will - I'd guess my success rate is 50:50), but there are a lot of variables so the testing methodology would need to be pretty good to pin down exactly who is going what. Google is almost certainly listening as well - even if only for the "OK Google" keyphrase - so you'd need to do a series of tests with various permutations of apps and services with microphone access enabled/disabled,
      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        The "OK google" and similar trigger phrases are processed by a special low power DSP. The main phone OS does not constantly listen, only the DSP does and the DSP does not contain any recording capability. It's designed for low power, always on operation.

        To record constantly would consume too much power, and would also need to either transmit a lot of data or do power-hungry processing. Voice assistants don't do speech recognition on the device, they use a cloud service because it is more accurate and can br

    • by swb ( 14022 ) on Wednesday April 11, 2018 @06:07AM (#56416929)

      Can it be tested technically? I would think that someone on Android at this point would have created some low-level way to monitor microphone use (not just "microphone accessed" but actually seeing data come from it) and would have caught Facebook monitoring the microphone.

      I feel like there should be some way to check Facebook's access of the microphone at the hardware level.

      • Can it be tested technically? I would think that someone on Android at this point would have created some low-level way to monitor microphone use (not just "microphone accessed" but actually seeing data come from it) and would have caught Facebook monitoring the microphone.

        Since Tim Cook and Facebook are not best friends at the moment, I bet Apple has tried this out. I mean they are in control of the operating system and all the hardware; there is no way to hide it from them.

      • Depends on how they implemented it. If they were streaming your mic to a server, that would be trivial to detect. It would also drain your battery and use a ton of bandwidth. If they just listen locally, pick out keywords, and then piggyback a small amount of meta-data onto an existing server round-trip, you may never find it. This type of audio processing, though, may use significant CPU cycles which would give a clue but you would still have a heck of a time deciding if that was audio processing or ju
      • Can it be tested technically? I would think that someone on Android at this point would have created some low-level way to monitor microphone use (not just "microphone accessed" but actually seeing data come from it) and would have caught Facebook monitoring the microphone.

        I feel like there should be some way to check Facebook's access of the microphone at the hardware level.

        It would be a piece of cake for anyone on Cyanogen/Lineage to test. Privacy Guard can be set to prompt you any time the app tries to use the microphone. It also keeps a log of how many times and the last time access was granted. I'd test it out myself, but no facebook account here.

        Honestly, I suspect all these claims of "I never search, but then I said it and started seeing ads" have another explanation. Perhaps you did search for it and don't recall. Random chance (show enough people enough different ads a

    • Hmm a brand I don’t normally talk about... let me google some of these. There we go. Now I will speak the words of the brand.... oh I am now getting adds. Facebook!!!

      • Not to mention Zuckerberg was not under oath at that hearing. If he lied, the legal ramifications will have been neutered.

    • by kriston ( 7886 )

      Absolutely false.

      Try using the scientific method next time.

  • not lying (Score:5, Interesting)

    by houghi ( 78078 ) on Wednesday April 11, 2018 @03:12AM (#56416575)

    They do not use it, but theu do listen in. Otherwise he would have stated they do not listen in and thus are unable to use it, because they do not have the data.

    • by gweihir ( 88907 )

      Pretty clear, yes. He may also have lied more directly here, wonder what his deniability strategy is. Maybe he ignored his lawyers and just hopes nobody follows up on this.

      • Or maybe Facebook really doesn't do this and doesn't want to listen to your audio because they already know so much about you that they wouldn't glean much more information.
        • by gweihir ( 88907 )

          Unlikely. It is possible they are not using the data at the moment, but they are gathering it, or he would have said they do not.

  • by viperidaenz ( 2515578 ) on Wednesday April 11, 2018 @03:23AM (#56416601)

    They use it for other undisclosed purposes.

    • by gweihir ( 88907 )

      You mean like building some kind of model of your behavior and environmend that then is used for ads?

  • by Karmashock ( 2415832 ) on Wednesday April 11, 2018 @03:31AM (#56416623)

    The whole concept of facebook... using your real name... instant fail.

    • using your real name

      I thought that's mandatory on the Internet, like on /.

      • It is.

        Out of curiosity, do you pronounce your first name h'cs or hc's?

      • by Mashiki ( 184564 )

        I thought that's mandatory on the Internet, like on /.

        Only us crazy people who were against mandatory names on the internet don't do it.

        Please pick up your:
        You are a terrorist, psychopath, sociopath, nazi, next unibomber t-shirt and card here. Dues are payable to the treasurer the 3rd Tuesday of every month. Potlucks are on the 11th and 22nd. Meetings to chuckle at the media for calling you crazy are held on the 7th and 28th of the month.

    • Do you really think that it's difficult for Facebook to figure out your real name if you don't provide it but do, for example, have friends that give it access to their phone contacts? I've had a couple of people post my real name in response to Slashdot posts even though I never use it here, and that's without the aid of a massive data mining machine.
      • never provide your real name to these systems and they can't know it... I also like to provide false names.

        I have five or six false names I use consistently when I want to poison a database so it thinks it has my real name.

        Surrendering is a way to end an issue... but you end it by losing.

        • never provide your real name to these systems and they can't know it

          They can't know it. Until you communicate with someone who has your real name in their contact details. Or you buy anything from a shop that has a data sharing agreement with Facebook and they provide the name from your credit card to associate with the cookie that Facebook set. Or someone tags you in a photograph with your real name and someone else tags you with your Facebook name. Or they identify your home IP and associate that with your entry on the electoral roll. Or one of a dozen other ways in

    • by antdude ( 79039 )

      Yep, they kicked others and me off for using fake names and datas years ago.

  • Smoke and Mirrors (Score:5, Interesting)

    by secondhand_Buddah ( 906643 ) <secondhand.buddah @ g m ail.com> on Wednesday April 11, 2018 @03:54AM (#56416667) Homepage Journal
    It's really hard to tell what Facebook is actually doing. It has become clear that lying to congress is totally acceptable if it is to be regarded in the interests of 'National Security'. Government actors have been caught out time and time again lying to congress without consequence. If Facebook is indeed doing this, Zuckerburg would have some kind of protection in this circumstance. The more pertinent line of approach here would be to determine if Facebook receives revenue from Security actors
    • Truth be told, most of congress backs what Mark is doing; surveillance and censorship to protect DC/Beltway (aka Deep State) from the rest of the plebs. Their anger however is rooted in it not being created out of legislation and thus under the direct wing of the Feds.

      In all sincerity. This drag-out of the Zuck was nothing more than Congress putting their foot down as to making it crystal clear as to who's the boss. Mark probably now gets it. As such, expect FB to get a slap on the wrist, and life goes on a

  • Lying like Clapper (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DNS-and-BIND ( 461968 ) on Wednesday April 11, 2018 @03:54AM (#56416669) Homepage
    On March 12, 2013, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told Congress that intel officials were not collecting mass data on tens of millions of Americans. Snowden exposed him as a liar. He should have gone to jail for it. So Zuckerberg can just lie like a rug and get away with it. It just doesn't matter, Congress is toothless and Zuckerberg knows it.
    • by Subm ( 79417 ) on Wednesday April 11, 2018 @07:05AM (#56417061)

      > Congress is toothless and Zuckerberg knows it.

      Congress has teeth if it wants to act. Choosing not to bite is not the same as not having teeth.

      It's more spineless, or maybe coopted or corrupt. In principle, if enough of us motivate them, they could act in our interests.

  • This, but not that (Score:5, Interesting)

    by davmoo ( 63521 ) on Wednesday April 11, 2018 @04:02AM (#56416693)

    So why is Congress getting its collective panties in a wad over this, but they don't seem to give a damn about data breaches like Sears, Kmart, Best Buy, yadda yadda yadda. And don't forget that almost everyone in America got Equifucked. Could it be as simple as that currently Facebook is the popular thing to hate? Or that Facebook hasn't bought...er...donated to the campaigns of...as many Congresscritters as Equifax, etc? Nah, Congress would never be that biased.


  • Unless you use facebook; or things that link to facebook, or little facebook like/link icons that track which website you're on, or ads that link to facebook or companies that partner with facebook, or lovely facebook add-on to chat etc

    But let's be clear, facebook do not spy on you at times that they do not spy on you. I hope that's clear.

    Thank you Mr. Zuckerberg. It has always been apparent to me that I should never use facebook.

    Shocking that people still think "I have nothing to hide, I don't put an
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 11, 2018 @04:36AM (#56416757)

    Zuck totally owned most of the Senators. Was not expecting that.

    Number of lazy, repeat and "I'm a total dumb fuck" questions by people who could not be bothered to research issues in advance dominated the hearing.

    Most amazing question was from Ted Cruz about the Palmer Lucky firing. It made the whole thing worth listening to. Had to rewind and play it back I was laughing so hard.

    With runners up incompetently hitting on the cross site tracking dimensions and lost opportunities to expose Zucks phony ignorance on the subject. Someone I don't remember who did kind of get him to admit it but in an overly generous way.

    On Microphone targeting the obvious follow up questions about data provided by third parties were never broached.

    It never occurred to anyone to ask about end users ability to control and view data obtained by Facebook from third parties that work quite a bit differently from Zucks claims about "their data".

    Zero questions on shadow profiles and tracking of people who don't even use the service.

    No pushback on magical "AI" claims vs. thinking human adversaries. Apparently Zuck thinks AGI is 5 years out or he's full of shit. Either way he's full of shit.

    Surprisingly there were people concerned with censorship aspects of the "hate speech" banning and calling out of cowards who think the first amendment is dangerous.

    Was also impressed with TIA mention (How Zuck could never have heard of TIA strains any and all credibility) This business of government asking for social media handles for Visa applications and government asking for data was nice to get on record. However the obvious "third party doctrine" related issues were predictable never followed up on.

    In all the Senate gets a D+ for dressing themselves and showing up.

    • by gweihir ( 88907 ) on Wednesday April 11, 2018 @05:13AM (#56416823)

      Well, big egos small skills. Unless they start having actual experts ask the questions in these interviews, they are basically a circus event, nothing else. Gives the appearance of "doing something".

    • Totally owned is right. From Cnet:

      All but nine of the 55 members on the House Energy and Commerce Committee have received Facebook contributions over the last 10 years, USA Today reports. Committee Chairman Greg Walden, a Republican from Oregon, received $27,000, and ranking member Frank Pallone, Jr., a Democrat from New Jersey, received $6,000, according to CRP.

  • It also links you to other people's devices. I started talking about a political viewpoint I don't have in front of a friend's phone, and I started getting ads for that viewpoint within the hour.
  • And a new meme about technological ignorance of the political class is born. I guess we should be thankful for small improvements, c.f. a Series of tubes.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

  • But Zuck probably loved the idea and gonna implement it as soon he go back to his desk.

  • This is just typical snake oil salesman bullshit mixed with spy operative how-to-beat-a-lie-detector-test by saying a truth about something when hearing something else entirely.

    I'm so tired of theater politics anymore. Anyone wanting to go look at my previous comments on other FB stories; feel free, I've said this numerous times: this changes nothing. When people you are in bed with are asking the questions (and pretty fucking formulated and ambiguous, btw) coupled with Zuckerberg preparing his ass off t

  • Wait (Score:4, Insightful)

    by stealth_finger ( 1809752 ) on Wednesday April 11, 2018 @08:45AM (#56417357)
    Do people actually think they're analysing the audio streams of every device waiting for people to say certain words/products so they can advertise that back to them? Real time analysis of millions of audio streams in many languages/accents? Yeah right.
  • As if... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bjoeg ( 629707 ) on Wednesday April 11, 2018 @08:53AM (#56417385)
    Based on true events (location and persons have been edited for sake of privacy):

    So one evening I said to my partner -
    Me: "You know what darling, should we consider taking the Catalina Express instead of taking a chopper?"
    Darling: "No, Catalina Express is more expensive and takes longer, let's stick with the chopper"

    The partner opens Facebook on tablet and suggested ad is "Great deals on Catalina Express".

    Dear Zuckerberg, is Facebook using my mic from my tablet to target ads for my profile?
    Or should the question rather be:
    Dear Zuckerberg, is Facebook scraping data from other sources using my mic on my tablet to target ads for my profile?
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Dear Zuckerberg, is Facebook scraping data from other sources using my mic on my tablet to target ads for my profile?

      Honestly, I don't think they are. I think the truth is much worse and embarrassing.

      There are people in this topic that **insist** this has happened to them. I think that, in each and every one of those cases, those persons (or their known close relations) fed just enough data to facebook so that it can occasionally get a really good target.

      Has your significant other ever called you out over subtly reacting to something emotionally, and you thought you had a perfect poker face? Your partner knows you so w

    • by dave562 ( 969951 )

      This is extremely wide spread. I think it is Google that is doing it.

      It happened to my wife and I. We made one random mention of buying something for the house. The next time she logged into Amazon, she saw an advertisement for what we were talking about.

      I drive for Lyft on the weekend and I have had multiple riders bring this up. I had one couple this weekend that mentioned it happened to them with Hulu, multiple times. They noticed that it takes at least 7 days for Hulu to "catch up" with what they were t

    • Why don't you just learn how to use your device?
      E.g. check the data consumption, disable the mic etc.
      I'm 100% certain the facebook app has no access to the mic on my mac, and he messenger is usually manually deactivated, because I only need it in extremely rare cases.
      If you check how data the facebook app has transmitted, and don't use it for a day, afterwards it is the same: obviously it does not sent secret data to the home base.
      You could remove the sim card, and check the traffic via your home router ...

  • "I'm going to be grilled by congress next week and I need to be able to truthfully say we aren't using the mic to target ads....yeah, you can turn it back on when I leave D.C..... thanks guys."

  • It's Baader-Meinhof phenomenon.

    Nobody's listening to you. You aren't that interesting. Don't flatter yourself.

  • "What exactly are ALL the things that Facebook records via the mic, and what does it do what that those recordings? and please note Mr Zuckerberg that lying to congress, even if not under oath, is against the law."

  • "Facebook Doesn't Use Your Mic For Ad Targeting "

    We have a special company that does that for us. We don't do such things.

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