Have you ever talked about getting a pair of shoes from a specific brand without ever Googling them and the next day an ad for them appears in your Facebook News Feed? Or maybe it’s been even more specific than that. You talked about wanting to go a Bali yoga retreat and suddenly Facebook has ads for this. Don’t be fooled, it’s not Mama Bali calling you, it’s Facebook using some serious tactics to target you. It’s happened to me before and it’s hella creepy. So it brings up the question, is Facebook spying on you?
Facebook Spying Via Your Microphone
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has denied the social media platform is listening to your conversations through your phone’s microphone to target you with ads, but despite this, the urban myth persists.
Is what they say that Facebook is listening in on us 24/7 true? Or is there a less sinister explanation?
Mark Zuckerberg claims that this is just a conspiracy theory. The Facebook megaboss denied any truth when he was questioned in front of US politicians at Congress, where he was quizzed about how the company uses data.
“Yes or no, does Facebook use audio obtained from mobile devices to enrich personal information about users?” asked Senator Gary Peters.
“No,” Zuckerberg replied. He went on to elaborate that Facebook does have access to audio when people record videos on their devices for Facebook, but otherwise it doesn’t access your microphone.
“We only access your microphone if you have given our app permission and if you are actively using a specific feature that requires audio. This might include recording a video or using an optional feature we introduced two years ago to include music or other audio in your status updates.”
So if Facebook isn’t using the microphone to spy on you are these ads oddly specific coincidences?
Why Does It Feel Like Facebook Is Spying On You?
- The magic of targeted advertising is that it should feel relevant to you, even if you can’t figure out why
- Facebook doesn’t need to spy on your real-life conversations, because you hand over so much information anyway (see below for how to change settings)
- Advertisers can use information from your activity all across the web, on multiple devices, even if you’re not logged into Facebook or Instagram
- Information they are likely to know includes where you live, your age, what you like, who your friends are, how much income you make, your political beliefs and much more
- When you get ads for something you’ve talked about out loud, it’s almost certainly just advertisers being excellent at predicting your interests
- More than likely an advertising campaign has been running, and you’ve seen an ad and not noticed. Much like subliminal messaging. You’ve then spoken about it, never realizing you’ve been advertised to, and only then notice future ads, which suddenly seem suspicious
- Facebook could use info about your level of wealth, your past vacation interests, the time of year, and your location to make predictions about where you want to vacation
- You may never have searched for anything to do with that before
- What seems like spying is actually just clever advertising
If you’re still not convinced and think Facebook is spying on you through your microphone, here’s how to turn it off.
- Go to Settings app
- Tap Privacy
- Tap Microphone
- Toggle Facebook to OFF
- Go to Settings
- Go into Apps & Notifications
- Find Facebook
- Tap into Permissions
- Toggle Microphone to OFF
I’m with you, the ads are just too specific and too creepy a phenomenon and I’m not even a paranoid person.
Understanding What Data Is Used To Show You Ads
Ads are shown to you based on your activity across Facebook companies and products – such as:
- Pages you and your friends like
- Information from your Facebook and Instagram profile
- Places you check in using Facebook
Websites you visit or apps you use can send Facebook data directly by using their business tools (such as a pixel) to help show you ads based on products or services you’ve looked at, such as a shirt on a clothing retailer’s website. Examples of this include:
- Viewing one of their web pages
- Downloading their mobile app
- Adding a product to a shopping cart or making a purchase
When you share information like your phone number or email address with a business, they might add it to a customer list that can be matched to your Facebook profile. Facebook can then try to match the ad to the most relevant audience. You may have shared your information with these businesses by:
- Signing up for an email newsletter
- Making purchases at retail stores
- Signing up for a coupon or discount
Facebook uses location data to show you ads from advertisers trying to reach people in or near a specific place. They get this information from sources such as:
- Where you connect to the internet
- Where you use your phone
- Your location from your Facebook and Instagram profile
How To Further Protect Yourself From “Facebook Spying”
To remove or restrict the ability for advertisers to target ads based on your personal information, like your relationship status, your age or any of the many other categories Facebook has automatically selected for you based on the information you’ve provided visit “Your Ad preferences” section.
The most sensitive data you can grant is showing companies where you are, where you’re going and where you came from. You will need to turn off your Location Services. To turn it off on iPhone, go to your phone’s settings. Click Privacy > Location Services. You can turn this off altogether, or just for specific apps. To turn off on Android, go to Account Settings and tap Location.
When signing up for a new app, make sure to physically enter your name and email address. Do not sign up by allowing the Facebook app permission to sign in. This will give the app and it’s advertisers access to your preferences and Friends List. To see what apps and websites you are currently logged in through Facebook go here.
And lastly, if you are really worried, you can delete your Facebook altogether.