Does Facebook Want to Tap Into Your Smartphone’s Microphone?

Facebook’s patent app for listening in on conversations sounds very 1984 — but the headlines are a bit misleading.

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Facebook applied for a new patent for tech that can listen in on conversations — but, apparently, that doesn’t mean they plan to use it.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office recently published a patent application filed by Facebook in 2016, detailing a type of technology that can trigger your smartphone mic to record audio every time it hears inaudible messages hidden in broadcasted ads.

Rumors of Facebook and Instagram tapping into our microphones have already been circulating for a few years, but the application definitely added to people’s suspicions. However, Facebook has continually denied that they are recording any of your audio to target ads.

“It is common practice to file patents to prevent aggression from other companies,” stated Facebook’s VP and Deputy General Councel Allen Lo. “Because of this, patents tend to focus on future-looking technology that is often speculative in nature and could be commercialized by other companies.”

It’s normal to be skeptical of Facebook’s intentions – especially after the Cambridge Analytica scandal, but former patent lawyer Charles Duan believes that the patent may not be as it sounds.

“There are a lot of reasons that a company will apply for a patent and it doesn’t necessarily correspond with the sort of technologies that they’re working on exactly at any given time,” he stated. “Companies can get the patent specifically for the purpose of going after a competitor or stopping individual companies from infringing patents but they also just use them to stockpile because they like having high patent numbers— it looks good for the shareholders.”

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