Recently reporters have discovered that Facebook filed a patent a while back for a technology that would embed “digital fingerprints” in TV ads or other audio that would trigger smartphone mics to start recording everything in the surrounding area.
The patent is called “Broadcast Content View Analysis Based on Ambient Audio Recording.” That’s a longwinded way of describing a technology that effectively turns every smartphone into a spying device.
We live in an age when our everyday actions and words are being recorded at an unprecedented level. Anybody who has ever had a conversation about their desire for a slice of pizza, and immediately seen a notification from their Dominos app pop up on their smartphone, knows what I’m talking about.
Although they swear up and down that they’re not, the big social media companies are all recording our behavior just about all the time. Mostly its so that they can target us with ads they think will be more likely to draw our attention.
But now, the Zuckster looks to be moving into other forms of surveillance. The new Facebook patent would allow for tech that puts an undetectable audio-blurb into TV commercials.
When a phone hears that audio-blurb, say because somebody is playing Candy Crush while their TV plays the nightly news, it would activate the phone’s mic and allow the phone to record all the “ambient noise” in the room.
The recording would then be analyzed and stored by Facebook so that the Zuckster and his team of spies can figure out what ads people are watching on their TVs, or listening to on their radios, as the case may be.
When viewed alongside thousands of other such recordings, this would give advertising groups an idea of their audience size, and would help them figure out how audience responded to their ads, ie, by sitting through the whole thing or switching the channel.
And that would let Facebook fine-tune its advertising to appeal more closely to the tastes of specific users.
But some people don’t like the idea of being listened in on just so Facebook can show them ads for things they were idly discussing with friends the day before. (Those people may want to consider moving to a different country. Here in America, you’re under surveillance all day every day, baby.)
And Facebook is already in hot water for the sloppy way it’s handled users’ data in the past.
Facebook’s leadership swears they’ll never use this tech, and it’s just a “speculative” patent filed to “prevent aggression from other companies”.
(That’s something that does happen, by the way. Lots of companies will file very broad patents just to sit on them and sue any company that actually does the work to develop a similar technology. It’s called being a “patent troll” and it’s a serious roadblock for many American tech companies.)
But the tools necessary to implement tech like this are definitely already in place.
And given the too-uncanny-to-be-coincidence incidents of people idly discussing something with friends one day and seeing Facebook ads for it the next, it’s already a fair bet to say Facebook is listening to you more than you’d like it to be.
If the Zuckster can listen in to your conversations, what’s to stop him from listening to your TV ads?