Remember how everyone was convinced Facebook was listening to their conversations because two seconds after talking about something, an ad for it would appear on the feed of their favorite social media site? Well, turns out those Orwellian nightmare/loony conspiracy theorist suspicions were not so farfetched.
A recent patent application from Facebook reveals the company is working on software that orders users’ smartphones to record audio when it picks up a hidden sound in TV ads. The company’s latest stalker-alert patent application is called “broadcast content view analysis based on ambient audio recording,” and it’s creepy as all hell.
The system allows Facebook to conceal a digital sound in the audio of television ads. This sound is unhearable to human ears, but the Facebook software can hear it and it will send a message to your smartphone to begin recording.
The phone will record audio that Facebook describes as “distinct and subtle sounds of a particular location created by the environment of the location, such as machinery noise, the sound of distant human movement and speech, creaks from thermal contraction, and air conditioning and plumbing noises in a household.” Notice how cleverly tucked away “speech” is in the middle of that flowery description of “ambient noise.”
Of course, Facebook only designed this system to monitor what people watch on their “broadcasting device” so their Facebook feed can then be chock full of targeted ads. It gives their clients the best possible billboard for campaigns and lets them know who is really tuning in.
The more muffled the “ambient noise” the more likely the user has ditched the TV ad and gone to grab a beer. That’s all this system does. There is no ethical questions to be asked about advertisers being let into users’ homes uninvited to record private conversations. That’s an inconsequential bi-product of a Facebook feed full of shiny coveted products.
Facebook stress that applying for a patent doesn’t mean that it is going to ever amount to anything, but when looking at the thousands of patent applications the company has filed since 2012, they reveal Facebook has considered tracking almost every aspect of users’ lives. Spying seems to be where they see future patent dollars. They’ve developed software to know where you are, who you spend time with, whether you’re in a romantic relationship, which brands and politicians you’re talking about. And it is not alone in this journey. Google has even attempted to patent a method for predicting when your friends will die.