Facebook has denied all such allegations of them using the device microphone to spy on its users, but these recent occurrences were just too perfect to be coincidences. Sometimes, marketers get frustrated when their products aren’t being demanded sufficiently. A lot of people could be seeing targeted ads of products they could never have any use for. Wouldn’t it be so convenient to show people ads of the items they’ll most likely want to buy?

Tyler Mears is a writer for Wales Online, and she’s convinced Facebook is spying on its users 24/7. The thought is creepy on all levels.

When Facebook founder Zuckerberg attended his two-day congressional interrogation in 2018, the question came up and he answered in the negative.

“Yes or no, does Facebook use audio obtained from mobile devices to enrich personal information about users?” asked Senator Gary Peters.

Zuckerberg replied with an unhesitant ‘no’.

She said it, and it appeared…

Sharing her story with Irish Mirror, Tyler narrates how she’d seen ads for obscure items she only mentioned in passing [1]. She hadn’t even thought about them afterward, and upon opening her FB app, she saw them as targeted ads.

“It all started when I needed to pee,” Tyler wrote. “Here’s a bit of context. My partner and I, having recently bought a campervan, were talking about female urination devices and how useful they would be for the van. You know those portable funnel-looking things that women can use to pee on the move? It was completely random and, to be honest, we had a right old giggle about the whole idea.”

Right after that, they forgot about the item and moved on with their lives. She became suspicious when she saw a urination device pop up as an e-commerce ad the next day. She told a colleague about this, and he joked about it to one of the moms at his son’s rugby game.

The mom saw the same urination device ad the following day.

Before ever talking about it, both Tyler and the mom have never typed in any words to search the urination device on or off Facebook. How could this then be possible? When she shared her theory with the rest of her colleagues, they didn’t take her seriously. They laughed it off as tricks of the mind and asked her to move on.

Things get weirder

“At work, I had been sent a police video of a man attempting to stab an officer during an arrest,” she explained. “It was a really shocking video. It was sent via email from a Welsh police force and linked to the video on their YouTube channel. Later that day, while at home, I showed a copy of the YouTube video to my partner. We talked about how lucky the officer was that he was wearing a stab-proof vest, or he might have been seriously injured.”

Right after that, they didn’t speak anything of it again. She had also never searched for stab-proof vests anywhere before. At Midnight, she saw ads marketing these vests on her Facebook timeline.

The caption read: “Body Worn Camera Footage (in full) – Grievous Bodily Harm against Gwent Police PC.”

She questioned the Facebook team directly about this

Seriously upset and freaked out, Tyler bared her mind to the FB team and explained how she thought they were listening in on her. She sent them screenshots of the preferred ads with a clear explanation of her “conspiracy theory”. They sent her a link to a comment which they’d previously made on their newsroom website.

The comment read: “Facebook does not use your phone’s microphone to inform ads or to change what you see in News Feed. Some recent articles have suggested that we must be listening to people’s conversations in order to show them relevant ads. This is not true. We show ads based on people’s interests and other profile information – not what you’re talking out loud about. We only access your microphone if you have given our app permission and if you are actively using a specific feature that requires audio. This might include recording a video or using an optional feature we introduced two years ago to include music or other audio in your status updates.”

She’d never used the optional feature before, which entails turning on your microphone to allow Facebook to scan the audio from a song or a movie to identify it.

She suspects she may have granted microphone access when she went on Facebook live for the first time.

Tyler wrote that she checked her account statistics to see if she’d missed something. She checked “advertisers you’ve visited”, “advertisers you’ve interacted with”, and “advertisers you’ve hidden.”

She saw nothing about stab-proof vests and urination devices.

“I guess I’ll never find out exactly why these ads popped up on my timeline when they did,” she wrote. “Facebook are unambiguous when they say they do not use the microphone to capture audio to target ads. But maybe next time I’ll talk about something a bit more worthwhile – like the winning lottery numbers.”

Facebook has debunked these allegations several times, but sometimes it just doesn’t seem like a coincidence.

References:

  1. ‘Facebook is spying on me’: User gets ads for obscure things she’s just chatted about. Tyler Mears. Irish Mirror. April 21, 2019.
  2. The 9 Most Weird and Hilarious Questions Congress Asked Mark Zuckerberg. Minda Zetlin. Inc Magazine. April 12, 2018.
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