Is Facebook listening? Here’s how Facebook spies on us

When you sign up for Facebook, the social network asks users to approve of it accessing your location


It’s a given that Facebook is listening in on our conversations, right?

That’s how the social network can follow up on our real-world conversations about products with ads that show up in our News Feed. 

Wrong, says Gennie Gebhart, a research director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who has studied Facebook’s targeting efforts. 

“They don’t have to listen,” she says. “For Facebook to use voice detection, to find keywords and then map them onto ad preferences, that’s Stone Age targeted advertising technology. There’s much more nefarious and evasive methods and much more invisible methods available to them.” 

When you sign up for Facebook, the social network asks users to approve of it accessing your location

She mentions location tracking as a case in point. This is the feature in which Facebook  “can tell who you are and what you’ve recently purchased,” she says. 

“Maybe you’re in an airport, lingering in front of an ad, and that signals to an advertiser that you might be interested in the product. Or you’re in a bar, watching a TV show and you get an ad for the TV show. Location services knows you’re in a bar where that show might be popular.”

EFF's William Budington and Gennie Gebhart

It’s all about Location Services

Location services is technically an opt-in feature that pops up after you’ve downloaded the Facebook app to your phone. The social network asks for your approval, one of those pop-up windows that most people don’t read and automatically click yes. 

Facebook’s pitch: Location Services allows it “to provide more relevant and personalized experiences, like helping you check in, find local events and get better ads.”


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By Javier Manning

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