Facebook has patented a tech that records ambient audio from client devices to measure ad impressions.
The patent application published by the United States Patent and Trademark Office describes a technology which remotely activates microphones on a client device like a tablet or phone, using inaudible signals broadcast via television.
The patent application applied by Facebook in December 2016 and published by the USPTO on June 14.
First spotted on June 21st, the technology in the patent can be used as a way to determine who is watching TV, what they are watching, what ads they are viewing, and for how long they are watching for. This may be employed to provide recommendations on films and TV shows, however, can also be used to provide more targeted advertising.
Nevertheless, privacy experts are concerned about this new patent. Allowing a microphone to be activated remotely and record background sound will pick up on private communications, with no one being aware that they're being recorded. “It’s extremely disconcerting for privacy to have an inaudible beacon as it means they want to make it not obvious to the user that the device is listening,” senior technologist at Electronic Frontier Foundation, William Budington said.
Facebook has reacted to the criticism of the patent, stating "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. The technology in this patent has not been included in any of our products, and never will be."
This has almost validated rumors that Facebook has been listening in on people’s private conversations, and uses that information to render more targeted ads. In May 2014, Facebook launched a feature known as Identify TV and Music – this feature listens to ambient noise while a user writes a Facebook post, however, this required the user’s permission.