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Theory: Facebook and other apps are listening in on conversations using your smartphone’s microphone and then showing you targeted ads based on that spying.
Verdict: False, but Facebook’s transcriptions of Messenger voice chats and Portal commands have only reignited this conspiracy theory.
Rumors have circulated online for years that Facebook and Instagram use peoples’ smartphone microphones to listen in on conversations, detects key words and phrases, and then shows them advertisements based on what it hears.
The conspiracy theory has only gained traction over time, with CBS This Morning anchor Gayle King asking Instagram’s CEO whether it’s true in June. Mark Zuckerberg was also asked by lawmakers if Facebook mines audio for targeted ads when he testified before Congress in 2018.
Zuckerberg flatly denied the claims at that time, and Facebook has put out multiple statements denying that it mines users’ audio over the years.
It would be illegal for Facebook to secretly record your voice, but as this explainer notes, there’s also a more compelling reason the conspiracy theory is likely false: Facebook already has a trove of your data — including much of your online activity outside the app — which is far more expansive than what it could glean from spying on your conversations.
However, Facebook has admitted that it monitored different types of user audio: it had contractors transcribe audio from voice memos through Messenger and audio of people interacting with its Portal video-conferencing hardware.