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Facebook wants to patent a way to listen to conversations, but claims they won’t actually use it

Can they hear us now?

mark zuckerberg holding his hands on stage
Image: CIO

Facebook says it doesn’t plan on using our phone microphone to listen in on our conversations for targeted advertising purposes. But that hasn’t stopped the company from submitting a patent application that would allow it to do something similar.

As first noted by Metro, the company submitted a patent application on June 14 for a tool that would remotely turn on your phone’s microphone to start recording whenever it hears inaudible messages hidden in television advertisements. In doing so, the company could use the information it collected to show advertising on Facebook that interests you.

Big Zucker’s research division revealed a system which lets it quietly tell people’s mobile phones to capture ‘ambient audio’. It allows Facebook to conceal ‘a non-human hearable digital sound’ in the audio of a TV ad or other content. Although people won’t be able to hear this sound, it contains a ‘machine recognizable’ set of Morse code-style sounds which let it tap out a message to your smartphone and order it to begin recording. The secret sound could be a very high-pitched voice, Facebook wrote, pitched just above the limit of human hearing.

Following this report, Mashable reached out to Facebook’s vice president and deputy general counsel Allen Lo to clear things up.

Facebook wasn’t really going to record our conversations, right? 

Lo explains,

It is common practice to file patents to prevent aggression from other companies, Because of this, patents tend to focus on future-looking technology that is often speculative in nature and could be commercialized by other companies.

In other words, Facebook is claiming it filed this patent application so no one else could secretly record our conversations. And just to be clear, Lo noted, “The technology in this patent has not been included in any of our products and never will be.”

Give me just one reason why I should believe this information about phone microphone patents? Anyone?

Hmm, let’s look:

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Bryan considers himself a well-rounded techie, having written articles for MakeUseOf, KnowTechie, AppAdvice, iDownload Blog. When he's not writing, he's being a single dad and rooting for his alma mater, Penn State, or cheering on the Patriots.

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