Does Facebook Listen In On Our Conversations? We Ask A Facebook Privacy Expert
And what does a Facebook privacy expert deem safe to share on social media?
“I’ve been discussing this with my friends a lot,” Joakim Gomez declared. “For example, I’m talking about whisky with my friends over dinner and when I go home, suddenly I see an ad for whisky on [Facebook or Instagram]. How is this possible?” the 987 jock asked.
All this took place at the media launch of the recent Facebook Café pop-up, where Joakim was on the panel discussing privacy and security on Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. And in case you’re thinking that the tech giant was branching into F&B with the café pop-up, stop right there. It is not. Instead, Facebook lured people with free pancakes and coffee to learn more about privacy and security on their socials.
It’s safe to assume that Joakim’s question has probably crossed your mind before. Perhaps a colleague had spoken to you about Pilates classes, something you’re not the least bit interested in. And after that conversation in the office pantry, you start scrolling through Facebook only to see an ad for a Pilates studio pop up. What gives?
“That’s a myth that we’ve had to bust every time,” says fellow panelist, Facebook Privacy and Public Policy Manager, Arianne Jimenez (main pic). “Facebook doesn’t eavesdrop on you and your conversations through your phone’s microphone. The things and ads you see are influenced based on your interests and profile information.
“Facebook listens to your conversations only if you give us permission to do so, and only if you’re actively using a feature that requires audio, like taking a video. But eavesdropping on you? Never.”
8 DAYS: You shared earlier that Facebook doesn’t listen in on conversations. But why is it that after I speak to my friend about, say, plants, I’ll start seeing ads for plant shops, for example?
ARIANNE JIMENEZ: Facebook doesn’t eavesdrop on your conversations. People may think that we do that ’cos they may be having conversations with their friend and they say, “I wanna go to Bali on vacation.” Then later on, what do they see on Facebook? An ad for a Bali vacation package. But that’s not how it works.
The advertising ecosystem on the Internet is about technologies leveraging on pixels and tags, and we are able to deliver personalised ads to you without listening to you [via] your phone. It’s just that we have a very powerful advertising technology and that involves a lot of technical ability and it's spread across the entire advertising ecosystem, but it definitely doesn’t involve us listening through the microphone [of your phone]. It’s mostly about what you search for online. Those influence the ads and content you see. For example, if I just liked something or a post, then it goes to what influences the ads [that are served]. It’s the same for Instagram.
It’s your job to educate people about privacy and security controls on Facebook. But what are your own Facebook habits like?
This is a very nerdy and Facebook thing to say, but I have two favourite things that I like doing on Facebook. The first one is the privacy check-up. That’s one of the first things you have to do. It shows you who can see your posts, lets you control the audience [that can see your posts], and also shows you who can see your profile info, and you can manage who can see your profile info. It also shows you the apps and websites that are connected to your Facebook account, and lets you manage and even delete them. The next one is privacy shortcuts. Everyone should check it out. Those are easily accessible links to your major ads, security safety and privacy settings. Go through that so you can make sure your account is super safe.
Personally, what do you share on Facebook?
My default setting [for the audience selector tool] is Friends. I rarely share anything publicly. I would share it publicly if it’s, let’s say, something about privacy education or awareness. But which restaurants I go to, or where I go on vacation, or photos of myself and my family? That’s definitely just set to Friends only.