Facebook seeks patent on tech that turns on your smartphone microphone
To hear Facebook tell it, no one at the company is secretly using your phone’s microphone to listen in on your conversations for the purpose of ad targeting.
But that doesn’t mean they aren’t open to the possibility.
A patent application filed by the Menlo Park-based company details a convoluted process to trigger users’ devices to record the ambient audio surrounding them — be that your conversation or the sounds in your bedroom — and then send some form of data based on that recording back to the company.
And yeah, it’s creepy as hell.
The application, first reported by Metro, was published on June 14 and lays out how Facebook might remotely turn on your phone’s mic to start recording. Essentially, Facebook would embed high-pitched audio signals in “broadcast content” (think TV ads) that would be inaudible to humans. But whereas our ears wouldn’t be able to discern it, “a client device” such as your phone would be able to hear it.
That signal would instruct your phone to record the “ambient audio” surrounding it, and then send an “ambient audio fingerprint” back to Facebook for analysis.
“The online system, based on the ambient audio data, identifies the corresponding individual and content item and logs an impression for the content item upon determination that there was an impression of the identified content item by the identified individual,” explains the application abstract.
Facebook, when reached for comment, claimed it has no intention of ever actually implementing the technology described in the application. Which, of course, makes one wonder why it bothered to apply for a patent on it in the first place.
Thankfully, Facebook VP and Deputy General Counsel Allen Lo is here to clear that up.
“It is common practice to file patents to prevent aggression from other companies,” Lo said in a statement to Mashable. “Because of this, patents tend to focus on future-looking technology that is often speculative in nature and could be commercialized by other companies.”
Phew! Facebook is just doing this to protect us from other companies that may eventually want to record us through our phones’ microphones. That sounds … believable.
But just in case you have any doubts about Facebook’s true motives, Lo is here to insist that the company would totally never use this tech that it’s trying to patent. Never.
“The technology in this patent has not been included in any of our products,” he explained, “and never will be.”
There, don’t you feel better already? I mean, we can trust Lo — it’s not like Facebook has a history of misleading its users or anything.