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It can exploit just about everything that retailers know about you, your cash purchases, online transactions which are tied to your phone number or email for a reason.

Is Facebook really looking at my photos and using those for ad targeting? Almost everyone with a basic knowledge of ad targeting has wondered about this fact. You may have heard very recently that Facebook can spy on you via your smartphone’s microphone.

This might be a concern if it was possible. Before we all start to panic, we should consider whether such a miracle is possible, even for a tech giant like Facebook.

To make this happen, Facebook would need to record each and every word that your phone’s microphone can record. This is almost the same as always being on a phone call between you and Facebook. Our average voice-over-internet call takes around 24kbps from one way, which totals to about 3 kBs of data per second. If we assume that you’ve got your phone on half the day, then that’s about 130 MBs of data per day, per user. In an average country that’s about 20 petabytes of data per day.

Facebook’s entire data storage at present is about 300 petabytes only, with a daily consumption of about 600 terabytes. So in other words, constant audio surveillance by Facebook would produce about 33 times more data than than Facebook currently consumes on a daily basis.

But if this doesn’t satisfy your curiosity, consider this, spying would be eminently detectable. How? Because using large quantity of data on your smartphone will make it lag. If the always on record call is maintained with Facebook, it will make your phone obviously slow and you will investigate, revealing the cause of the lag.

Though, it is possible, Facebook could listen only for specific keywords that can trigger ads. But it will still be very daunting to do such a thing on every smartphone in existence in country. This process from slow and older phones to fast flagships smartphone like the iPhone X is a messy process. Targeting a specific type of smartphone can ease the burden to an extent, but any significant load on such scale presents very extraordinary challenges.

Even if we disregard the feasibility or ubiquity of such digging for information, can you imagine what Facebook would do with all that information? What can it possibly do? Human language is laden with sarcasm, innuendo, obfuscation and double-entendre. The chances of Facebook’s AI figuring out, just what you want judging by any recording of your conversation are very slim.

In fact the harsh truth is that, it doesn’t need to perform such technical miracles to give us targeted ads. It can simply find you on whatever device you’ve ever logged in on. It can exploit just about everything that retailers know about you, your cash purchases, online transactions which are tied to your phone number or email for a reason.

But before you rage quit Facebook, you must know that Twitter and LinkedIn do the same thing along with numerous other social media apps. In this world it is very hard to escape the modern methods of Advertising.

In short we can just say that, there’s no way at all for Facebook to eavesdrop on you at the moment. But it is definitely tracking you in ways that you’re not aware of.

 

-Archit