Is Facebook Listening to You?

By: Hannah Brown

Is Facebook Listening to You?

By: Hannah Brown

4 months ago   |   Marketing Industry News

Picture this: It's an average morning, you're minding your own business, brushing your teeth and staring at the bags under your eyes wondering if they're getting worse when your teenage son yells from down the hall that he's out of deodorant, and he specifically wants to try Old Spice this time. You make a mental note to add "Old Spice" to your shopping list and finish getting ready for the day. 

Over breakfast, you open your phone and start scrolling through Facebook. You flick your thumb up past photos of babies, someone's anniversary dinner, a couple political memes, an add for Old Spice, and a notice about your neighborhood yard sale. 

Wait...go back. Was that an ad for Old Spice? Weren't you just talking about Old Spice? No, that wasn't even you talking, your mouth was full of toothbrush. Your son yelled the words from down the hall and you made a mental note to add it to your shopping list. (Which you had forgotten to do so thanks(?) for the reminder.) 

But back to the more concerning aspect of your whole morning: Is Facebook listening to me? 

True or false: Facebook listens to your conversations 

While you might be convinced that Facebook is listening to you, and there are too many instances like the one described above that have happened to you recently to change your mind — it's simply not true. 

In fact, unless you've expressly authorized Facebook to use your microphone, it doesn't use it for digital tracking. If they did use it without permission, they would find themselves in a heap of legal trouble and at risk for disciplinary action from Google and Apple. 

So how does Facebook know which ads to show me? 

Okay a kernel of this is true: Facebook (and other social media channels) DO eavesdrop on you, in a sense. No they don't actually listen to your conversations via your phone's microphone, but they do "listen" to you in other ways. By pulling in your demographic and location data that you've allowed them to access and using a highly sophisticated algorithm to extrapolate what you want and need at the moment, and then showing it to you via social media ads.  

In using your demographic data, they know you're a 40-something woman with two teenage kids, a boy and a girl. They know you do most of the shopping, as your grocer's shopping card you use at every trip will attest. They know your past purchases, and they send you coupons for the things you purchase frequently, like deodorant. At some point during the past decade or so since you've been on social media, you have allowed your grocery store to share this very specific information with Facebook via your login, plugins, and widgets.  

And what about that location data? Turns out what you didn't know about your morning was that upon learning that he was out of deodorant, your son remembered his favorite YouTuber mentioned a brand he used but he couldn't remember the name of it. So, he opened his phone, found the video, clicked on the ad, and noted it was Old Spice, then yelled down the hall to ask you to add that specific brand to your shopping list. Since your phone is often in the same GPS area as another phone, Facebook takes note of that too, knitting your whole family together into one happy web of targeted users. 

All of this is in addition to the fact that Facebook records every comment we leave, every post we like, every friend you tag, every site we view, and adds it to its big old cauldron of things it knows about you to serve you the best potion — er ad — for your particular need, or what it thinks you need. 

So your being served an ad for Old Spice wasn't that coincidental after all. 

Why should marketers care? 

Though it might be hard to convince the layperson, marketers are people, too. (Well, most of us.) On one hand, sure we want our businesses to make money, on the other, we value our (and other people's) privacy just like anyone else.  

So what's it to you if your products and services are shown to the right person at the right time? That's a win-win all around, right? Well, not exactly. Marketers want to provide valuable information, not invade your space with ads that may or may not matter. 

That's why it's still important to do your own due diligence, keeping track of your own metrics and measurements to make sure you're hitting your target audience and not relying on social media's somewhat stalkery behavior. 

How this may be somewhat impacted now that iOS 14.5 has been rolled out. 

Apple recently rolled out iOS14.5, which, among other updates, contains the App Tracking Transparency (ATT) privacy feature. This allows you to "control which apps are allowed to track your activity across other companies' apps and websites for ads or sharing with data brokers," which means you now have the option to deny (or allow) apps the right to track your every movement. 

You may choose to turn off app digital tracking on your kids' phones if you want them to have more privacy, which means less "coincidental" occurrences like the deodorant example. For yourself, you can choose which apps can track you and which ones can't, depending on your preferences. 

Theoretically, this means you'll be given more relevant ads on your social media — ones you've "given permission" to follow your every move. However, the long-term impacts of this software update are yet to be seen, as marketers have to now figure out a workaround to getting their messaging in front of their target users. 

How to Do I Stop Facebook from Listening to Me?  

Still not convinced? Change these settings to make triple-sure Facebook isn't listening to you. 

How to disable Facebook's access to your microphone:

iPhone:

  1. Go to Settings and scroll till you get to the Facebook App. 
  2. Choose Facebook. 
  3. Turn off the microphone by toggling the button to the left. 

Android: 

  1. Open Settings and look for "Permission."
  2. Tap "Permission manager." 
  3. Scroll through the list of permissions till you get to "Microphone."
  4. Tap on "Facebook" then set microphone access to "Deny." 

At Oodle, we pride ourselves on staying up-to-date with the latest in digital marketing and how to best target an audience that's relevant to you, despite what goes on behind the scenes. Let us help you navigate the world of digital marketing with our expertise. Contact us today to find out more.


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