Reply All podcast host PJ Vogt challenged Facebook once again with a new viral video alleging the social media company “listens” to user’s real-life conversations through their smartphone’s microphones. A Reddit post Sunday, “Facebook iPhone listening into our conversations for advertisements,” linked to a video showing a man’s conversation about “cat food” being targeted to him on Facebook right after talking about the subject.
Responding over the weekend, Facebook’s Vice President of ads, Rob Goldman, outright denied the claims. “I run ads product at Facebook. We don’t – and have never – used your microphone for ads. Just not true,” tweeted Goldman. The Reddit video post, “YouTube user demonstrating how Facebook listens to conversations to serve ads,” gathered nearly 100,000 upvotes by Monday.
Facebook has had to rebuff listening claims in the past, including a June 2016 viral news story that reported the same keywords from real-life conversation coming up almost immediately on targeted Facebook ads. Mark Zuckerberg himself was the target of surveillance criticisms after a June 2016 photo celebrating Instagram showed the CEO’s laptop camera and microphone jacks taped over.
“Some recent articles have suggested that we must be listening to people’s conversations in order to show them relevant ads. This is not true,” Facebook said in a statement.
“We show ads based on people’s interests and other profile information – not what you’re talking out loud about.”
Several comments on the post tell their own tales of Facebook listening through their smartphone’s speakers and microphones.
“I uninstalled the apps after I told my wife our apartment complex would be replacing our air filters the next day. I had never searched for air filters (we lived in an apartment). After that all of my advertising experiences on facebook were for home air filter companies. I’m not the tinfoil hat type, but it’s blatant and many other users have seen similar things happen.”
“Stuff like this happens to me all the time to the point where I started screenshotting the ads every time. For example. I started dating someone recently and she uses a hippy brand of mouthwash I have never heard of in my life,” reads one of the top Reddit comments. “Never thought twice about it. After spending a night at her house I started seeing ads for this brand of mouth wash. Never spoke about it never even thought about this mouth wash until I started to see ads for it. Small coincidences like this happening once a month are no longer coincidences. I deleted all the apps.”
Another user said that they’re still receiving targeted ads on Facebook that corroborated their real-life conversations around the phone despite not having downloaded the Facebook app’s microphone access. However, the Reddit commenter did admit to having WhatsApp installed on his phone, which is owned by Facebook Inc.
Several responses to the viral Reddit video post expressed concern over the newest evidence of surveillance, with one group even asking: “What can Trump do about Facebook illegally listening to its users?”