Despite what the conspiracy theorists claim, Facebook doesn’t secretly listen to your conversations, CEO Mark Zuckerberg confirms. The embattled executive has to do more than deny to rebuild the public’s trust. ( Brendan Smialowski | AFP/Getty Images )
Mark Zuckerberg puts a conspiracy theory to rest: Facebook, he says, does not listen to private conversations to improve its ad targeting algorithm.
Many have theorized that the social media company has some way of keeping tabs on its users by virtue of surreptitiously turning on their smartphones’ mics without their consent.
During Zuckerberg’s U.S. Senate testimony, Senator Gary Peters asked him if Facebook collects audio from mobile devices, which is something his constituents have been asking him about, he said.
Zuckerberg denied such allegations.
“You are talking about the conspiracy theory passed around that we listen to what is going on on your microphone and use that,” Zuckerberg said. “We do not do that.” He did mention, however, that while recording video, Facebook “record[s] that and use that to make the service better by making sure that you have audio.”
Cambridge Analytica Scandal
The practice has Black Mirror-like implications, and though Zuckerberg has outright denied it’s taking place, the fact that many people believe it is representative of the level of distrust some users have for the site.
“I think it’s safe to say very simply that Facebook is losing the trust of an awful lot of Americans as a result of this incident,” said Peters. He is referring to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, where Facebook kept the public oblivious to the fact that a third-party firm had amassed information from 87 million accounts.
The ensuing public outcry surrounding the data breach spawned the #DeleteFacebook movement, which was joined by high-profile figures including SpaceX’s and Tesla’s Elon Musk and, most recently, Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak.
Facebook’s Trust Problem
There have been many articles discussing how an undertaking described in the conspiracy theory has a number of technical limits, deeming it not impossible but quite a challenge to pull off. They also point out how easy this would be detected if it were indeed happening. Regardless, many people still hold the belief that Facebook secretly listens. With high-magnitude scandals the likes of Cambridge Analytica, this belief will most likely not be put to rest, no matter how vehemently Zuckerberg rejects the idea.
Facebook has a trust problem, that much is true. From data collection to fake news to Russian propaganda accounts infiltrating the network to spread misinformation. “No” isn’t potent enough to repair the public’s trust for the social network, and Zuckerberg knows that: he has delayed the release of Facebook-branded smart speakers, in fact, in light of the Cambridge Analytica fiasco.
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