Is Facebook spying on my conversations?

Posted by on Nov 15, 2017 in Marketing & Advertising

Have you ever thought Facebook is maybe just a little too good at targeting ads to you? Maybe you’ve heard one of the many stories of people claiming Facebook is listening to their conversations through the microphone on their cell phones, and now you, yourself are starting to think Facebook is spying on you.

Let’s start by settling your fears with a resounding “no,” Facebook is not listening to your conversations.

Admittedly, the company has gotten really good at collecting your data. So good, in fact, that it has led many people to believe that Facebook must be listening to their conversations. But that is simply not the case.

If not through the microphone, then how, exactly, does Facebook collect our data? Let’s explore.

Ways Facebook collects data

There are five ways Facebook collects data to categorize us for the purpose of making it easy for advertisers to target us. Here they are:

  • Data that you provide to Facebook, such as age, gender, and pages you like
  • Location data
  • Facebook Pixel (more about this one below)
  • Facebook buys data from data providers and matches it with Facebook profiles
  • Businesses upload customer data to Facebook customer lists and match those customers with Facebook profiles

That’s it. Those five means of collecting data about you, while being extremely invasive, are the only means Facebook uses to collect data about its users. Facebook has gotten really good at serving ads based on the information it collects through those five means. They can be used in conjunction, leading to the possibility of extremely targeted advertising options.

Because Facebook has gotten so good at giving advertisers the tools to target ads so effectively, it has led people to believe that Facebook must be listening in on their conversations. In reality, it’s your everyday habits, such as the websites you visit, your location, the stores you shop at, the things you “like” on Facebook, but not the use of your phone’s microphone, that allows Facebook to target you so well.

For example, if you visit a website about a kale farm, that might tell Facebook that you show an interest in kale. If an advertiser targets people who show an interest in kale, you might be shown that advertiser’s ad. But how is Facebook able to categorize you in this way simply from you visiting a random site? Meet the Facebook Pixel.

What is Facebook Pixel?

Facebook Pixel is installed on a website, and when you visit that website, Facebook collects all kinds of data about what you do on that site. Then, when you visit Facebook, you might see ads that are related to the web pages you have visited in the past.

Facebook might also assume you are interested in the subject matter for any site you visit that contains a Facebook Pixel, then builds a list of categories and interests for your individual account based on your web activity.

This “tag” style of following you around the web is a very common marketing tool used even outside of Facebook. Google Analytics tags and AdWords Remarketing tags are other examples of tags that marketers commonly use to see how you move about the web and to serve tailored ads to you.

How to stop Facebook from creeping

Edit your Facebook categories:

Once Facebook collects data about you, Facebook categorizes you based on the information they have collected. You can view and edit these categories yourself by following these steps:

  1. At the top right of Facebook, click the drop-down arrow (on browser)
  2. Click settings
  3. Click ads
  4. Click your information
  5. Click your categories

You can remove categories that do not apply to you.

Edit your Facebook interests:

Facebook has also taken the initiative to determine what your interests are.  You can view and edit your interests, according to Facebook, by following these steps:

  1. At the top right of Facebook, click the drop-down arrow (on browser)
  2. Click settings
  3. Click ads
  4. Click your information
  5. Click your interests

You will find out just how wrong Facebook can be about your interests. Facebook, for example, thought that I had an interest in logging, recruit training, and arcade games. I don’t have much interest in any of those.

Turn off Facebook’s access to your cell phone’s microphone:

If you are still convinced Facebook is listening to your conversations through your microphone, here are the steps to removing the app’s access to the microphone.

Android:

  1. Go to Settings
  2. Tap apps & notifications
  3. Tap app permissions
  4. Tap microphone
  5. Turn off microphone permissions for Facebook, messenger, and Instagram

iPhone:

  1. Go to settings
  2. Tap privacy
  3. Tap microphone
  4. Turn off microphone permissions for Facebook, messenger, and Instagram

Delete Facebook from your phone:

If you are still not convinced, you can simply delete the Facebook app from your phone. Really paranoid? Delete your Facebook account altogether! Here are the steps to deactivation:

  1. Click the drop down arrow at the top right of Facebook (on browser)
  2. Click settings
  3. Click manage account
  4. Click deactivate your account

Interested in learning more? Check out these sources of information:

Facebook’s statement about microphone priveledges: https://newsroom.fb.com/news/h/facebook-does-not-use-your-phones-microphone-for-ads-or-news-feed-stories/

Basic Facebook ad information: https://www.facebook.com/ads/about/?entry_product=ad_preferences

About Facebook pixel: https://www.facebook.com/business/help/742478679120153

Some investigative journalism: https://gimletmedia.com/episode/109-facebook-spying/