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  1. #1

    Facebook spied on me through my smartphone mic and served me and ad

    Yesterday, my sister and I were having a conversation and both of our phones had their screens off and were in the room. My sister asked me about potentially leasing a car, and I mentioned maybe leasing a Honda Civic. I have not researched or even thought about Honda Civics in over ten years. I have had zero internet searches for anything related to cars in years. 5 minutes later, I open the Facebook app and I see an ad for leasing a Honda Civic. The ONLY way Facebook could have served that ad was by listening to our conversation while our phones had their screens turned off. This is outrageous. My mind is blown. I Googled around for similar stories and there are lots of anecdotes about this exact thing happening, but it has not broken through to be covered by any large media organization. This is a HUGE story and it seems like The Verge should try to replicate this behavior in a controlled test.

  2. #2
    Second, you should keep in mind correlation does not equal causation. Things like this could easily be a coincidence. Not sure if there’s a way to diagnose this though, maybe tell Android Authority and they can try an APK teardown or something (I assume this is Android because Apple won’t let anything run with the screen off except push notifications as far as I know).

  3. #3
    I deleted the Facebook app and deleted my Facebook account right after this happened so i can’t check the settings, but I really doubt I would have enabled microphone access since I barely used Facebook. About the coincidence factor, I think it’s highly unlikely. I hadn’t seen a car ad on Facebook even once in the years I’d used it and have zero car related searches in my recent history, yet 5 minutes after I mentioned the work Honda Civic Lease it shows that exact ad? That seems incredibly unlikely for it to be a coincidence. I also didn’t mention it in my original post because I wanted to keep the content focused, but this is actually the second time I’ve seen this happen. The first time it happened to my wife. We had a conversation randomly about a topic that we never think about or discuss or had ever searched online for and minutes later she had an ad about it in her Facebook feed.

  4. #4
    This is a misuse of probability. Remember, correlation != causation. Now, there is a case to be made for probability in many types of analysis. Probability is itself the starting point for drawing correlations and investigating causation. But what it comes down to is that probability by itself isn’t the be all and end all. Simply put, you can’t draw a conclusion from a probability being small. It simply does not apply. Someone once said "it would be really weird if there were no coincidences", because it turns out there are unlinked events that happen without causation between the two. For instance, in Cuba a taxi driver ran over a kid and killed him by accident, then exactly 1 year later to the day ran over his brother and killed him, on the same street, with the same passenger riding in the taxi. Is it possible the taxi driver had it out for the family? Maybe. Maybe he planned it. But could you convict the taxi driver of double homicide just because it’s seemingly unlikely the two events would happen by chance? Probably not.

  5. #5
    Now that’s not to say we can’t have our hunches about certain things based on probability, so it’s fine that you suspect these things are related, and I would not deny you the right to believe they are linked, so what I would say is if you’re not equipped to investigate this, which it looks like you aren’t since you already deleted the app, you should just email Android Authority’s editors to take a look, or another Android-focused site, there are sites that do "APK teardowns" and they investigate what they can out of the APK, or they isolate the network traffic from the phone and such. I do think it’s important we get to the bottom of these kinds of things because I have my suspicions about Facebook (having deleted my own account and then finding you only "deactivate" and nothing is really deleted, probably ever).

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