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Is Facebook Tracking You Or Just Storing Everything?

You may have seen murmurings across the internet recently that Facebook is using its mobile phone application to track everything you say and is then turning that into advertising. Right off the bat, let’s clarify that isn’t true. We’ll explore why in a moment. However, it is true that Facebook stores a lot of data about you, most of which you’ve given it, which is then used to target advertising.

The theory that Facebook is constantly recording. Let’s tackle this first. To do this they would need to have an open connection from your phone to their servers at all time. It’s the same as making a phone call over the internet, which uses around 3 kBs of data per second. If you use an internet-enabled phone application, you can test this out and see how much data it drains. Assuming your phone is on for 12 hours, that’s 130 MBs of data. Multiply that by Facebook’s 150 million active US users and that’s 20 petabytes of data.

Consider the fact that Facebook’s data storage capacity amounts to 300 petabytes and takes in around 600 terabytes per day. That’s an enormous amount of data certainly, but nothing to what it would be if they were receiving the aforementioned volume of audio logs.

That said, it’s true that Facebook wouldn’t necessarily have to be listening all the time. Something like Google Home or the Amazon Echo is voice-controlled and activates when it hears a trigger word. But this is radically different. Having a machine programmed to listen for a trigger word, and then detect the speech that follows, is still impressive technology, but nothing to the scale that would be required for analysing all speech.

Besides, how would it know what to turn into advertising? It isn’t going to be able to work out if you’re talking about someone else’s interests, if you’re being sarcastic, or if it’s audio from someone else entirely. The entire concept would be a burden all round – on your phone’s hardware, your data usage, and Facebook’s storage capacity.

It seems that nearly all of the reports from people claiming that Facebook is listening to them is purely confirmation basis. They see an advertisement that relates to something they’ve said, so instantly assume the reason why it’s there. They don’t account for the fact that it could be a targeted ad at your demographic, location, or likes.

Facebook and its advertisers are more interested in what shopping websites you’re visiting, what’s in your cart and what you’re buying. Your loyalty cards are tied to your account. The number of times you’ve viewed an item are tracked. Anything they can do to push you into a purchase.

And Facebook isn’t the only company doing this, of course. So are all the other social networks. While they aren’t all listening, they are all tracking you in ways that you might not realise. Whether you find that acceptable or not will depend on whether you keep using their services. Besides, they’re free for a reason.


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