Big brother is here, and his name is Facebook

In his book 1984, George Orwell detailed a dystopian world wherein a person or persona called “Big Brother” saw everything that people did and where the central government pushed its agenda through propaganda, spying, monitoring, and thought controls.

In 2013 Vint Cerf, who is considered as the father of the internet, said that “privacy may actually be an anomaly.” Throughout history, people preferred communal settings in just about anything(…) It was only during the industrial revolution that we started to have a preference for privacy.

And with the rise of social media, that cycle means we are now moving again toward loss of privacy.

Imagine how much people have been sharing online, with friends and even the public. This includes photos, status updates, locations, all that while tagging friends who may not be aware they are being connected with photos, events, and places.

It’s not even limited to Facebook. No matter how little you share, all the meta data involved in just about anything you do online can constitute your digital persona.

All of these digital crumbs, so to speak, paint a digital picture of us, which bots, machines, and even data scientists, can lead to our digital makeup. Add to that the evolving technologies of facial recognition and machine learning — this means tech companies might know more about us than we do.

And this is extremely useful to anyone who needs to do any customer targeting. Ask advertising agencies and marketers.

In fact, ask Facebook.

Did you know that the social network may have the capability to listen in even when we are not actively sharing information or using the mobile app?

Facebook may be listening

You heard that right.

Given the amount of permissions we give social networks when we install apps on our mobile devices, we might as well just hand them over privileged access to our personal lives. With passive listening technologies, for instance, Facebook might be able to eavesdrop on conversations.

In 2016, a University of South Florida mass communications professor, Kelli Burns, shared her observations that the Facebook app delivered content based on things she mentioned in a conversation.

The idea that Facebook is passively spying has since been debunked, and Burns herself said her comments may have been taken out of context. However, this does not preclude the fact that Facebook itself has admitted to using smartphones’ microphones whenever necessary. “We only access your microphone if you have given our app permission and if you are actively using a specific feature that requires audio,” it said in a statement.

This refers to app features like song recognition and video capture, among others. However, it does not discount the fact that Burns observed a few relevant ads to be pushed in her feed when she mentioned certain keywords.

It all boils down to the permissions you have granted Facebook when you install the app. In most cases, granting permission is an all-or-nothing affair. This means you cannot cherry-pick the permissions to grant or deny when installing an app. You either accept or decline.

What you can do

This does not mean we can just simply let Facebook or other applications get away with potentially being able to eavesdrop on our conversations in order to “serve better ads”.

The choices here involve four things:

  • Uninstall the social networking apps
  • Find alternative ways to run the applications or use alternative ones
  • Find apps that can block social networking apps from recording audio
  • Switch to secured and private decentralized social networks


Toward the future of social networking

We are at an era wherein we have chosen to give up our privacy all for the convenience of being able to share and engage with our friends online. The more we share, the lower our privacy becomes. Social networking does not have to stop there, however. And we do not need to entrust all our social connectivity needs to a single company.


Your privacy should still be considered sacred, especially if it pertains to what you say to another person face-to-face. If you are worried about your smartphone or other device listening in via its apps, you should act now, in order to further protect yourself against eavesdropping, which is very real.


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