Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a joint hearing of the US Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill, April 10, 2018 in Washington, DC.
Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images
Tell me if you’ve heard this one before.
“Yes or no,” Sen. Gary Peters began, “Does Facebook use audio obtained from mobile devices to enrich personal information about users?”
The question was directed at Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg. He came to Capitol Hill to answer questions about the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal and Russian meddling. Instead, he found himself debunking an urban legend that had followed the platform for years.
“No. Let me be clear on this: You’re talking about this conspiracy theory that gets passed around that we listen to what’s going on on your microphone and use that for ads,” Zuckerberg replied. “We don’t do that.”
Zuckerberg’s firm response was understandable — the myth has followed Facebook for years, to the point that Snopes has published several articles debunking the idea. Facebook has itself denied it on multiple occasions. And yet, the question followed Facebook’s founder to the floor of the US Senate.
Anyone else convinced our phones are spying on us/listening in? Two random brands I talked about aloud today just came up as Facebook ads 😳
— Rachel Ferrigno (Maleady) (@rachelmaleady) October 29, 2017
Still, it’s not hard to imagine how the idea made it to a congressional hearing. This specific thread of paranoia lives on in Facebook walls, online forums and Twitter posts.
Even Mark Zuckerberg himself seems wary of cameras and microphones:
Zuckerberg says Facebook can record audio, but only when you’re filming a video which includes audio anyhow.
So no — Facebook isn’t listening to you through your phone to serve you ads. You’re probably just experiencing an eclectic mix of Facebook’s already aggressive algorithms and Blue Car syndrome.
Cambridge Analytica: Everything you need to know about Facebook’s data mining scandal.
Tech Enabled: CNET chronicles tech’s role in providing new kinds of accessibility.