A lot of people, both Facebook users and otherwise, don’t really trust Facebook. So, when Facebook announced a new feature that can passively listen to users’ background activity in order to easily identify songs, TV shows, and movies for status-sharing purposes, it wasn’t surprising when it struck people as a bit creepy.
Or as one petition put it, a “massive threat to our privacy.”
Yes, May’s announcement (the actual feature goes live soon) ushered in a swift and ferocious response from those concerned about privacy. According to Facebook, users will always be in control of when the app is listening, and if/when they share what it hears with everyone else. Of course, the constant distrust of the company’s motivations led some users to focus on the nefarious ways Facebook could use that kind of technology.
Would they listen to our conversations? Would they store all of that data? Would they sell it to the highest bidder?
A petition was started, asking Facebook to respect user privacy and put the kibosh on plans to release the passive listening app feature. When we reported on the petition about a week ago, it had garnered a little over 200,000 signatures.
As of today, it’s coming up on 600,000.
“Facebook says the feature will be used for harmless things, like identifying the song or TV show playing in the background, but it actually has the ability to listen to everything — including your private conservations — and store it indefinitely,” says the petition. “Not only is this move just downright creepy, it’s also a massive threat to our privacy. This isn’t the first time Facebook has been criticized for breaching our right to privacy, and it’s hoping this feature will fly under the radar. No such luck for Facebook. If we act now, we can stop Facebook in its tracks before it has a chance to release the feature.”
Facebook has now spoken out about users’ concerns, looking to quash the so-called “myths” that have taken root online.
“The microphone doesn’t turn itself on, it will ask for permission. It’s not always listening…so it’s very limited in what it is sampling,” Facebook Security Infrastructure head Gregg Stefancik told CNET. “I wouldn’t want this in my pocket either if it was recording everything going on around me.”
He went on to explain exactly what’s happening when Facebook “matches” an audio clip it hears with one in its database.
“If there’s a match, we return what the match is to the user [and] give them the option of posting the match. The user is in complete control and the audio fingerprint that we’ve received is disposed of immediately. The raw audio never leaves the phone and the data about the match is only stored if you choose to post it,” he said.
He did clarify that if Facebook matches a sound with a song or TV show and you chooses not to share it, Facebook will keep a tally of that match in order to “keep a chart of the most watched and listened to song and shows” – but it won’t be tied to your personal profile.
Satisfied? If you signed that petition, I’m guessing the answer is no.
Image via YouTube