Facebook’s new audio feature won’t snoop on us, it says

Not listening. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Not listening. Image courtesy of Shutterstock. Just to clear things up, Facebook declared this week, we will not be eavesdropping NSA-style when we listen in on your TV and music.

Two weeks ago, Facebook proposed to Android and iOS users in the US that it would like to recognise and post news feed updates about the TV shows and movies we’re watching and the songs we’re listening to.

As it said at the time, the new feature would be off by default, only slurping up background sound if a user gives it the go-ahead.

With your say-so, the audio feature will then grind through its recognition machinery to identify the song, movie or TV show you’re listening to.

When it initially announced the eavesdroppish new service, Facebook didn’t say anything about listening in on background noise, including private conversations.

But this week, Facebook’s security head honcho, Gregg Stefancik, filled in that gap.

Stefancik, head of security infrastructure for the very-data-rich, o-so-good-at-data-mining social network, explicitly told journalists that the new audio feature does not snoop on users and does not record conversations.

The Guardian quoted him as he addressed journalists during a trip to Australia:

The microphone doesn't turn itself on. It will ask for permission. It's not always listening... so it's very limited in what it is sampling.

Similar to other audio-recognition apps, like Soundhound or Shazam, Facebook’s new feature will create an “audio fingerprint” of the background sounds as a user types a status update.

Then, it compares the audio fingerprint with Facebook’s database of music and television shows, which reportedly contains millions of recorded songs and shows currently broadcasting on over 150 channels.

If it makes a match, Facebook will notify a user and give him or her the option of adding the song or programme to a status post.

The raw audio never leaves the phone, Stefancik said, while the data about the match is only stored if a user opts to post it:

The user is in complete control and the audio fingerprint that we've received is disposed of immediately.

The app can’t identify background noise and conversation before the feature is enabled.

After all, that would be kind of stalker-ish, Stefancik said:

I wouldn't want this in my pocket either if it was recording everything going on around me.

Ditto. Neither would we!

Image of not listening courtesy of Shutterstock.