Is Facebook Listening to You?

Written by Tim Whitley on Monday, October 09, 2017

I was interviewed by Dawn Scott of THV 11, a CBS affiliate in Little Rock, Arkansas, on a very controversial subject: Is Facebook using your microphone to collect data?

This interview took place on September 25, 2017.

The interview is transcribed below, but to add some context, your phone IS listening to you. No matter which smartphone you own, it is listening to you. It listens for keywords that activate the phone to provide verbal responses. Example: “Hey, Siri!”

IoT (Internet of Things) devices are listening to you, too. (Ex. Amazon Echo, Google Home, etc. They are also listening for the keywords to activate, “Alexa…,” for example.

But, here is the thing - you, as the user, must give permission for these apps or devices to use your microphone to listen for keywords.

For this particular blog, we are only going to discuss what Facebook and Facebook Messenger is doing with your microphone usage.

There are many, many, many rumors on the Internet that Facebook is listening to your every movement. Even large-market television stations reported these rumors as TRUE:


The story above was not the only media outlet to report rumors as truths without reading the terms and agreement for Facebook.

These stories circulated in mid-2016, specifically the WLFA story was produced on May 24, 2016. Facebook issued a statement on June 2, 2016, that stated the facts:

Now, let's get down to the truth.

Dawn Scott: Is Facebook using your phone to listen to you?

Tim Whitley: No, the simple answer is no. It’s not taking any of your data that you’re talking about or anything like that.

Dawn Scott: What about Facebook Messenger?

Tim Whitley: The same terms and agreements you agree with on Facebook applies to Facebook Messenger, so, the simple answer is no.

Dawn Scott: Would you agree there is a lot of misinformation out there on the web?

I am going to discontinue the transcription as there are additional facts I want to add to the story that we were unable to cover due to time constraints.

When you search Google for “Is Facebook using your microphone to collect data?” you will receive over 1 MILLION results (rumors) about this subject. By the time I got to the 10th page of reading some of the conspiracy theories, I knew we had to do this story.

A lot of people understand that smartphones are listening for commands. What they do not understand is how data mining works and how they are being targeted with niche advertising that people actually prefer.

According to an eMarketer study on niche targeting, a new survey finds that 61 percent of people trust the advertising they see, an 11 percent jump from March 2014. In addition, 72 percent of respondents also said the ads are “honest,” a 16 percent increase over the past two years.

Why does this study matter? This data-driven type of advertising is trustworthy because now ads are customized to you, the end user. It is 100 percent legal and 100 percent.

Let’s say that you started to think about purchasing a new car. The thing is, we no longer think. We immediately pull out our smartphones and Google Search, Google Image Search, or post something on Facebook that says something like “I am thinking about buying a new car, suggestions?”.

Team SI uses ALL of the data mentioned above to target you on ALL of your devices that you use to showcase the different type of vehicle options. As you start narrowing down your search, the ads will become more and more relevant.

The data is compiled from your own searches. It is not being obtained by using your microphone and listening in on your private conversations, which is illegal and a violation of your privacy.

Dawn gives good advice at the end of the video where she suggests simply turn off your microphone in settings if you are still concerned.

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