The reason why Facebook users feel like they're being eavesdropped

Huge data is said to help Facebook and Google clearly understand users to deliver accurate ads, instead of having to eavesdrop.

Security experts have tested many times and found that social networks do not eavesdrop on users' chat sounds . However, many people still feel insecure about the platforms' ability to accurately target advertising.

Responding to technology site PhoneArena over the weekend, Jake Moore, global cybersecurity consultant for security company ESET with more than 10 years of experience fighting online threats, said: "The law does not allow Meta and platforms Facebook, Instagram... listen to users' conversations. To date, there has not been any authentic scientific evidence to prove that they are eavesdropping on people."

He affirmed that, technically, the phone can completely listen and respond to the user. That's how the voice assistant works publicly, and the phone will listen for keywords like "Hey Siri", "OK Google" to follow the user's command. However, phone manufacturers are not allowed to actively listen to what users say. They cannot record conversations to deliver targeted ads. Not to mention this causes the phone to constantly activate the microphone and send data, causing the device to overload, heat up and quickly drain the battery.

Illustrates that many people feel like they are being eavesdropped on by Facebook and Google. Photo: WSJ

According to security experts, Meta, Google and technology companies can collect a lot of accurate information from users without eavesdropping. They clearly know the user's age, gender and family status. They also know exactly where a person lives, where they have gone, who they are friends with, and what they are interested in. They know what users are searching for, what content they are viewing, what brands they have purchased, and what topics are of interest.

These pieces of information may seem harmless if they stand alone. But the platforms know how to connect and turn discrete data into an overall picture, sketching a portrait of each person. Then, the advertising distributor will rely on that information to make suggestions to each person. Their job is to ensure that for each ad broadcast, the highest percentage of end users are likely to click on it.

Before Jake Moore, this explanation had been given by other experts but was still not enough to convince many people. In a survey on VnExpress in May, 77% of the 13,000 participants said they often felt Facebook eavesdropped on them.

Probe14,757 votesDo you feel eavesdropped on Facebook?FrequentSometimesNeverVoting See resultsTime from: May 5
According to Moore, skepticism also comes from each person's brain. He gave an example: a few years ago, after buying a new car, he began to notice and see many cars of the same brand, model, and color on the street. Of course, it's not natural for a series of similar cars to appear in town. "This is because my brain starts paying more attention to cars similar to mine. This feeling is similar to users seeing the exact ads being sent to them," he gave an example.

He believes that the brain sometimes makes mistakes, sometimes deceiving its owner. Studies show that each person speaks thousands of words every day and among them will be keywords that can be linked to products, services or businesses advertising online. If the phone really listened to thousands of keywords from users, there should have been thousands of corresponding ads delivered continuously throughout the day. And so, eavesdropping for targeted advertising becomes meaningless.

Another problem is that users often pay too much attention to the probability of a match between the conversation content and the ad that just appeared, rather than the times when information is ignored or misattributed.

Besides, advertising display is also thanks to the combination of data samples from Facebook and Google that the brand has. Sometimes Google and Meta understand users' habits and needs better than they do, so advertising a favorite restaurant right after they mention it may be the result of a series of analyzes and links. The data was collected long ago.

In case you are not sure, experts recommend that users can completely turn off access to the social network's phone microphone. On Android devices, go to Settings > Application Permissions > Microphone > Facebook/Instagram ... and select off. On iOS devices, go to Settings > Facebook/Instagram > Microphone and select off. Here, they can also turn off other access rights such as location, images, and cameras. However, this will affect the experience because every time you need to perform features such as calling or sending voice chat, users must add the step of activating the microphone for the application. They can also compare whether turning off microphone access makes ad targeting less accurate to find the answer for themselves.

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