Facebook’s Controversial New “Listening” Feature

  •   Mackenzie Sheely

By Mackenzie Sheely

The term "Facebook Creeping" takes on a whole new meaning

Facebook recently announced a new listening feature for its smartphone app that has users pretty weirded out. The purpose of the feature is to make status updating quicker and easier (since it's exceedingly difficult now). It's used through accessing your phone's microphone while you write a status update, to identify music and television programs playing in the background. If Facebook finds a match to the sound clip, you have the choice of posting the song or TV show you're listening to along with your status.

A New, Optional Way to Share and Discover Music, TV and Movies from Facebook on Vimeo.

To me this feature seems wildly unnecessary. Anyone who wants their friends to know that they're watching Orange Is the New Black is likely going to take the two seconds to post it themselves, without an app identifying and posting it for them. Either way, Facebook users are not happy with this "Big Brother move" and have taken to the internet to prevent its release. As of this afternoon, a petition asking Facebook to "respect our privacy" and pull the plug on this feature's release has reached 599,376 signatures, roughly 150,000 short of the goal.

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Objectors are arguing that regardless of whether or not the feature is opt-in, it is still a huge threat to our privacy, as many users won't read the terms and warnings regarding this new option. This major user backlash has Facebook forced to defend their new development. Greg Stefancik, Facebook's head of security infrastructure, has explained, "The microphone doesn't turn itself on, it will ask for permission." Stefancik also stressed that audio-recognition will only be listening for fifteen seconds when typing a status, and that "audio fingerprints" are what leave your phone, never raw audio. Facebook also explains in a recent blog post addressing the many concerns about this new development, that the fingerprints they receive can't be converted back into the original audio data. However, Facebook will store data indefinitely if a match is made that you elect not to post, the data just will not be associated with your profile.

Based on the amount of skepticism and my lack of status updating as it is, I can already tell you that I will not be using this new feature. For those who do frequently use Facebook, it looks like you'll have a decision to make in the next few weeks.

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