Fears over Facebook’s new listening feature becoming ‘yet another spying tool’

By Danny Palmer
22 May 2014 View Comments
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Facebook has unveiled a new feature for its smartphone application that'll enable it to "listen" to user's music and TV shows, which has raised concerns that it could allow the app to be used for unauthorised surveillance.

Further reading

According to Facebook, the feature is designed to make it "quicker and easier" for those using Apple or Android smartphones to share a status about what it is they're watching or listening to and is set to be rolled out in a few weeks.

It'll enable consumers to use the microphones inside smartphones to connect to the web and determine what music they're listening to or, which TV show or film they're watching, before posting a status about it.

"In the last year, people shared more than 5 billion status updates that included these kinds of feelings and activities, sparking conversations with friends in a more visual way," Facebook product manager Aryeh Selekman wrote in a blog post.

"Today, we're making those conversations quicker and easier by introducing a new way to share and discover music, TV and movies," he continued, before going into details about how the feature works, specifically pointing out that users will only be subject to it "if you choose to turn the feature on".

However, the reveal of the new listening feature has prompted some users to question the privacy implications, especially given Facebook's patchy record with its users' privacy.

Facebook often uses data gathered from users in order to show them targeted advertising, but while the firm says it hasn't designed the new feature for this, a Facebook spokesperson told Computing that the social network is exploring the prospect of doing so.

It's something which Mark Bower, VP of products and solutions at security software firm Voltage Security, believes could represent a potential privacy invasion and a possible spying tool.

"The privacy implications of this strategy are startling and it may even violate several privacy, wiretapping, child data collection laws and [United States] regulations like the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act and Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act," he told Computing.

"Besides that, exactly how will the users' data be anonymized?" Bower asked, before suggesting that it could be deployed as a surveillance tool.

"Before the industry gives consent to this invasive eavesdropping, more transparency is required on the legalities and data security approach - lest this becomes yet another tool to spy on citizens throughout the world."

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