Facebook IS invading your privacy. Hardcore. Even when you’re not using the platform on your desktop, tablet, or mobile device it is continuously collecting data that it later uses for marketing and advertising purposes.
A recent article by Wired magazine deconstructs the hype around Facebook’s usage of the microphone in smartphone devices and calls it complete bullshit. Well, but is it?
A couple of weeks ago I introduced some 24+ Hot Wheels cars to my 20 month old son Hudson. Apparently they had been collecting dust in my parents basement since around the early 2000’s. Rare collection you ask? No, I wish and if that was the case they would’ve probably been unloaded on eBay for some cash if that was the case.
After picking up the bag of Hot Wheels cars from my parents house I ended up bringing them to my house so my son can start digging into them. I typically carry my iPhone around just about everywhere (yes, even in the toilet to kill some time) and this time was no exception. I entered our living room, set my iPhone on the couch (some 3′-5′ feet away from where I was standing with my son) and opened the bag of Hot Wheels so my son could play on the living room floor.
Now, what happened after this point was truly baffling to me.
A good portion of my Hot Wheels cars were from an early The Fast & the Furious (2001) collection. Way before it turned into the massively successful saga with Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, and the rest of the crew. So, here we are (my son and I) sitting on the living floor and I’m chatting about the Hot Wheels F&F toys while playing with him. Chatting as in verbally sharing with my 20 month old son who by the way can absolutely comprehend my words but incapable (yet) to respond. During this time my iPhone is sitting approximately 3′-5′ feet away from us on the couch.
Our play time eventually came to an end (bummer). Before returning to my smartphone I grabbed my laptop to continue working on some things and ended up on Facebook there out of all places. As I began to scan through my news feed on the right-hand side out of nowhere Sponsored ads from Amazon for The Fast & the Furious Hot Wheels collection suddenly appeared. A shocker is probably an understatement.
I stared at the ad placement for about 30 seconds without scanning further down my news feed. It was evident to me instantly that something wasn’t right.
How did Facebook know that I was interested in The Fast & the Furious Hot Wheels car collection? The only way that it would’ve known this is by eavesdropping on my conversation with my son through my smartphone’s microphone and the fact that the app runs in background.
I’m quite baffled. Before making any further assumptions though I performed additional research to see what others are experiencing.
Is It Technologically Possible for Facebook to Eavesdrop On You?
Yes, it is but they are most definitely not eavesdropping on you. Here is why.
- Facebook would need to engage in a 24/7/365 continuous call between your smartphone and someone at FB or perhaps a terminal/computer. This is highly unlikely but definitely not impossible.
- An average voice-over-internet call takes 24 kbps @ 3 kbps of total data used. Therefore racking up 130 mbs of data per day, per user.
- There are roughly 150 millions daily active users on Facebook racking up about 20 petabytes worth of daily data.
- Facebook’s entire data storage is around 300 petabytes with a daily data intake of about 600 terabytes. Still a ton.
- Facebook would need up to 33 times more data intake in order to digest phone audio.
- If Facebook was eavesdropping on your phone calls from a smartphone you would most definitely notice it. How? Your phone would come to a screeching halt due to immense data consumption.
NOTE: The information in the bullet points above was acquired from Wired Magazine who previously reported a similar story.
So, how did Facebook know about The Fast & the Furious car collection I was toying around with my son? Technologically i seems impossible because of all the factors mentioned above. Is it that the technology used simply can not be extrapolated to the average human being due to its sophisticated nature?
The Amazon Echo and its rival Google Home are equipped with sophisticated technology that can learn about your lifestyle on-the-fly, adapt, and serve the right information based on your interest. How is that possible though? Is Facebook using a similar technology to pinpoint your likes and interests? Voice-to-text and speech recognition are definitely no longer considered as new pieces of technology. The Amazon Echo and Google Home depict specific keywords designated within their database in order to adhere better towards the needs of humans. Same principle, more or less that Facebook utilizes on its users in order market products and services to them.
After deeper research it turns out that Facebook does not need to rudely solicit you in order to understand your online behavior. It already has a more sophisticated way of doing it through what is referred as ‘data onboarding’. This is the same technology that other social media platforms such as LinkedIn and Twitter utilize to monitor your online and offline activity. Data Onboarding in a nutshell pertains to the ability to transfer offline data online and be used primarily for marketing purposes. Before you ever laid a finger on the Facebook app it already knew your likes, dislikes, interests, sex, age, and probably a lot of other things that are probably considered as a breach of privacy.
Online privacy? There really isn’t such thing anymore. As consumers we have in most cases given up our emphasis on our privacy for the sake of access, personalization, and experience. As I explained above the entire process of data onboarding pertains to transfer of offline documents about you to an online environment. Some of that information is sold to multiple entities and eventually turns into your online reputation. Of course with your input and permission. where asked or required.