Shocking: Facebook can turn on your phone’s mic without your knowledge

By Shehryar Ahmed on
June 28, 2018
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Facebook is the biggest social media platform of the world. In addition to that, they also own the biggest online chatting app of the world, WhatsApp along with the ever-famous images sharing app, Instagram. Don’t think it’s all $$ and fame; it’s not easy being one of the biggest corporations of the world. Facebook has been subject to a number of scandals in the previous years, one of the most recent ones being the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Well, it turns out Facebook isn’t eager to cater to user privacy as well.

Facebook has applied for a patent which enables it to turn on your smartphone mic without permission. Facebook has always denied that it would spy on you but why would they patent this technology if they don’t intend on using it? Boy, I would be furious at Facebook for hearing in on my conversations.

In an application filed on the 14th of June, Facebook has requested to patent the technology required to turn on a phone’s mic and for it to start recording. Although there are no mentions of the technology “invading user privacy”, I’m sure nobody with a sane mind would be okay with Facebook listening in on their conversations. This is how the technology works:

  1. A digital sound will be transmitted through TV ads or any other medium. This sound will be an inaudible noise that cannot be heard by humans in normal conditions. The sound will be high-pitched and will contain a set of machine Morse-style codes that can only be heard/understood by a mobile.
  2. These codes will order your smartphone to open the mic and start recording. If it wasn’t obvious, you won’t have knowledge of any of this happening.
  3. The mic starts recording “ambient noise”, which is the sound of basically everything around the mic, including your conversations and other environmental sounds such as that of the air conditioning system etc.
  4. These noises are then sent to an online system which analyses the sound note in addition to the storage of user identity information.

Indefinitely, the purpose of this system is to analyze what kind of ads/content users are seeing on their “broadcasting devices”. The data will further on be used to come up with relevant advertisements on Facebook itself, i.e. personalized to the user according to the content they see on other mediums.

It’s painful to see Facebook commercializing themselves so much. It seems like user concerns don’t even matter anymore. Everything they’re doing is indirectly benefitting their advertising partners exclusively. Is that the right way to do things? I don’t think so, what about you?

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