On Thursday, International Business Times reported that a forthcoming Facebook mobile app update will be able to collect and save data captured by your smartphone’s microphone--a development that privacy experts find worrisome.
Though Facebook guaranteed users that “no sound is stored” by the new opt-in feature, the social media giant confirmed to IBTimes that “data is saved, but all data is anonymized and aggregated.”
The social networking company declined to comment on how it planned to use the data once it is gleaned.
“I think the most problematic element of this is that we don’t know with what data the sounds are matched,” said Dr. Ilka Gleibs, professor of social and organizational psychology at the London School of Economics. “As consumers, we have no control over whether data could be de-anonymized or what happens if third parties would like access to the data. It’s difficult to trust when messages are so mixed and we deal with so many unknowns.”
Speaking to the "opt-in" nature of Facebook’s microphone data collection feature, Dr. Gleibs added, “I seldom am alone in my environment. Thus, I might have consented to have ‘my sound’ recorded, but what about the other people with whom I share an environment?”
Facebook has struggled essentially since its birth to balance users' concerns about privacy with the company's desire to gather information.
“I am sure that many users and privacy advocates will express strong concerns about the app, and may indeed change their behavior on Facebook,” said Allison Lichter, social media editor for the Wall Street Journal. “But we know that consumers can get used to all kinds of encroachments on privacy, and that expectations around personal privacy really vary widely, including what constitutes ‘encroachment.’”
Reporter Barton Gellman, who won the Pulitzer Prize this year for his coverage of Edward Snowden and the National Security Agency, tweeted that he deleted the Facebook app from his smartphone. Several other users echoed his sentiments.
Early Thursday, shortly before speaking with IBTimes, Facebook announced sweeping policy changes aimed at addressing privacy concerns for its 1.2 billion users worldwide. Its announcement came just months after the social networking company was implicated in the NSA’s controversial PRISM electronic data surveillance program.
Before news of Facebook's involvement surfaced, CEO Mark Zuckerberg categorically denied any involvement in the program.