3 min read

You must have been hearing the recent cambridge analytica scandal involving facebook and user data theft. As an aftermath of the recent Facebook Cambridge Analytica scandal, many have become cautious about using Facebook, and wondering how safe their personal data’s going to be.

Now, Facebook has filed for a patent for a technology that will allow an ambient audio signal to activate your mobile phone’s microphone remotely, and record without you even knowing. This news definitely comes as a shock, especially after Facebook’s senate hearing early this year and their apologetic messages regarding the cambridge analytica scandal. If you weren’t taking your data privacy seriously, then it’s high time you do.

According to Facebook, this is how the patent pending tech would work:

  • Smartphones can detect signals outside of the human perception range – meaning we can neither hear or see those signals. Advertisements on TV or or any devices will be preloaded with such signals.
  • When your smartphone detects such hidden signals from the adverts or any other commercials, it would automatically activate the phone microphone and start recording ambient noise and sounds.
  • The sound recorded would include everything in the background – from your normal conversations to the ambient noise of the program or any other kind of noise.
  • This would be stored online and sent back to Facebook for analysis. Facebook claim they will only look at the user reaction to the advert. For example, if the ambient advert is heard in the background, it means the users moved away from it after seeing it. If they change channels that means they are not interested either in the advert or in the product. If the ambient sound is direct then that means the users were bound to the couch as the ad was playing. This will give Facebook a rich set of data on which ads people are more interested to watch and also get a count of the people watching a particular ad. This data in turn will help Facebook place the right kind of ads for their users with prior knowledge of their interest in it.

All these are explained from the point of view of Facebook which at the moment sounds very very idealistic. Do we really believe that Facebook is applying for this patent with such naive intentions to save our time from unwanted ads and show the ads that matter to us? Or is there something more devious involved? The capability to listen to our private conversations, recording them unknowingly and then saving them online with our identities attached to it sounds more like a plot from a Hollywood espionage movie.

The patent was filed back in 2016 but has resurfaced in discussions now. The only factor that is a bit comforting is that Facebook is not actively pursuing this patent. Does it mean a change of heart? Or is it a temporary pause which will resume after the current tensions are doused.

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