Is Facebook listening?

Facebook eavesdropped on a private conversation today and, yeah, I’ve got proof…

I was having an IRL (in real life) conversation about Facebook privacy with Kate, who is wrestling with the idea of ‘putting herself out there more’ whilst trying to retain some level of anonymity. (I do my best to guide her but have still not been able to convince her to post either a photo of her child or lunch yet so, I suspect it’s a lost cause).

‘Do you post to the world or just your friends?’ she asked me. ‘I just post stuff to all my friends’ I explained. ‘You can change your privacy settings to make your public profile as private as you like’. And that was the end of the conversation.

Let me be really clear – Nothing was typed, nothing was googled, no settings changed in facebook. This was just an awkward discussion of social media privacy between two children of the 90’s.

Then 10 minutes later, this post (below) came up on the top of my facebook feed.

How can that be coincidence? Facebook must have been listening to our conversation to follow up with a post that specific just minutes after our discussion? I have to admit, I did have a quick look out of Kate’s venetian blinds to check if there was a guy in a seedy one bedroom apartment across the street monitoring us with one of those mini satellite dishes and a pair of headphones but alas, nothing. God they’re good.

If I’m honest, it worries me but not as much as what you’re probably thinking. ‘Facebook is bugging me!’ does not sound like a rational claim. You think I’m a crazy conspiracy theorist, don’t you?

It is true that smartphones have become little tracing devices though. Click here and check out all the daily information google collects on you – it might surprise you. They even have audio recordings of some users (they didn’t have any from me but my privacy settings seemed to be disabled for Google).

And unless you’ve specifically changed Facebook’s permissions in your settings, they have access to you microphone. You probably knew that or just forgot you knew that. The company claims it never gathers audio information to market products to you (or steal your next big idea) but you’ll have to decide whether or not you trust a company that sells ads to Russian spy rings to rig the US… oh my god, I’m becoming the tin foil hat guy!..

You tell me, which of the following best describes your attitude towards the question ‘is facebook listening’?

  1. Relax. No one is sitting in a dark room listening to your conversations.
  2. Okay, the facebook app can operate my microphone but they’d struggle to find anything of interest to listen in on in my dull life.
  3. This is not ideal but if you think I’m deleting my account just to re upload all my holiday pictures somewhere else, you don’t know me very well.
  4. The day of reckoning is approaching where the robots will rise up.

I’m at 3. Inertia wins the day for now but I really don’t like the idea of being under constant surveillance. It’s an argument Mum and I had when 8 new CCTV cameras were installed in the main street near my house. ‘What are you worried about’ she said, ‘you’re not planning on breaking any laws are you’?

‘No mum but what about lesser offences like, say, picking my nose? Are they going to be watching that too? Will it  be recorded? How can I be sure there’s not a security guard somewhere compiling a list of my greatest picks and showing it to all his friends’?

Until my privacy starts being taken seriously, I’ll be taking the back streets and leaving my phone in the garage at night thank you very much.

Please don’t leave me out on a limb here. There must be other unexplained Facebook ‘coincidences’. Leave a comment below if you think Facebook is listening…

* if you’re moderately freaked out and want to disable Facebook’s access to your microphone go to your ‘settings’ app – click ‘Facebook’ – click ‘settings’ – turn off microphone access

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