Facebook patents system that can use your phone’s mic to monitor TV habits


Facebook downplayed the patent, saying it has no plan to use the system in its products PHOTO/NurPhoto via Getty Images

System would allow Facebook to identify what adults and children are watching based on ambient noise

Facebook has filed to patent a system that can remotely activate the microphone on someone’s phone using inaudible signals broadcast via a television.

The patent application describes a system where an audio fingerprint embedded in TV shows or ads, inaudible to human ears, would trigger the phone, tablet or long-rumoured smart speaker to turn on the microphone and start recording “ambient audio of the content item”. The recording could then be matched to a database of content to allow Facebook to identify what the individual was watching – like Shazam for TV, but without the individual choosing to activate the system.

Diagrams accompanying the patent application highlight how the technology would know which adult or child within a household was watching a particular broadcast.

The patent, first spotted by the New York Times, positions the technology as a way for broadcasters to know exactly who is watching their TV shows or ads and for how long. The same system could then be used to build viewing profiles of individual members of a household for better content recommendation and more targeted advertising.

Privacy experts are concerned about the intrusion into people’s homes, particularly as the ambient audio recording would likely catch snippets of people’s private conversations without their knowledge.

“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,” said William Budington, a senior staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Such a system could also give Facebook a better understanding of people’s social connections as it would show the social network which people were meeting up in real life.

Facebook was quick to downplay the patent filing.

The Guardian for more

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