Facebook Patents New Hidden Smartphone Listening Method

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Facebook has reportedly patented an ad-triggered smartphone recording method which remains entirely hidden to users and records ambient audio on command. The development suggests that the company plans to use the sounds collected for targeted advertising purposes. For clarity, the triggers would effectively be encoded in sounds that the average human ear is incapable of hearing but which would be caught by a cellular device’s microphone. It would be played during on-television commercials or delivered via similar means and would cause the handset to begin recording and transmitting audio captured within the smartphone’s immediate vicinity. Because the sound isn’t audible to the people who own the device, the entire process could basically be done without their knowledge. Despite laws in place to prevent the process, which most would deem as an invasion of privacy, Facebook says the sounds would provide a unique profile of the user. That, in turn, could be used by advertisers.

Specifically, the social media company says that partners would be able to judge whether or not their media are reaching users or whether they’re being ignored. In that case, the audio-encoded command would be delivered during that sponsor’s own content. According to the patent, by gauging the quality of the recorded broadcast sounds, the company would be able to make that determination. The tool would gauge volume, for example, and presumably tie back in with other phone activity as collected by Facebook – such as whether or not the user was active on their device and distracted through the ad. Beyond that, the tool could be used to provide those agencies with more insight into what a consumer wants, needs, or prefers. That would allow more accurate targetting of promotions and ads on Facebook itself, the company indicates.

Whether or not Facebook actually implements this patent is another matter entirely. However, with consideration for the company’s scandals over the past several months, it isn’t likely to go unnoticed by regulators or users if it is used. Facebook doesn’t provide any details about how the user’s data might be protected or anonymized, let alone addressing possible abuse of its patented technology.