In a story that mostly proves Facebook really doesn’t manipulate what stories are popular on its service, today the company responded to a rumor that its app is listening in on users. This time around, the rumor started in an article from The Independent reporting that a communications professor from USF noticed Facebook serving ads with topics similar to stuff she’d discussed near her phone. Not surprisingly, the story spread rapidly on Facebook, and today the company responded with a statement trying to clear up the situation. As it said to Gizmodo: “Facebook does not use microphone audio to inform advertising or News Feed stories in any way. Businesses are able to serve relevant ads based on people’s interests and other demographic information, but not through audio collection.” Clear enough?
Recently FUD stories like this have spread as a result of incomprehensible terms of service wrapped in so much legalese that no one knows what they’re really agreeing to. This time however, the fuel appears to be app permissions on Android and iOS. While Facebook does list a permission to use the microphone on iOS and Android, it’s only activated when a user tries to identify something like music or a TV show.
Unfortunately, most people aren’t sure what the permissions mean — even an app like Skype with an obvious need for access has to explain it — and assume anything listed might be in use at any particular time, no matter how unlikely that is. That said, if you do want to make sure Facebook does not have access to your microphone, you can disable it on either mobile platform. On iOS, just go to settings, select Facebook, and move the slider for microphone to off, or on Android, if you look under Apps in the settings menu, find Facebook and select permissions, you should see a similar slider for the microphone.