Facebook is listening to me without my permission.
This weekend, after playing Destiny 2 and streaming live on Twitch, I discovered that Facebook is secretly listening to me without my permission.
It’s been a point of contention that Facebook is listening to users and serving ads to them based on their conversations. While I haven’t experienced this directly, I did have a similar realization while appearing as a guest on the Grumpy Old Geeks podcast last year. Facebook appeared to target specific push notifications for people I had vocalized and never wrote about in updates.
I haven’t had another experience with this until this weekend.
In Destiny, you earn loot in-game by completing challenges and then receiving random drops of weapons and armor for your character. The weapons and armor typically have clever names like Sunshot and Graviton Lance.
While playing the game with headphones on and my phone, in standby and face-down on my desk nearby, I captured this on Twitch.
The weapon I earned was called “Uriel’s Gift,” a weapon labeled Legendary meaning it’s more rare than a Rare drop. In my tepid excitement, I exclaimed “Hey, Uriel’s Gift.”
I had never said that name before aloud in my life. I’ve never known someone named Uriel. I’ve never talked about someone named Uriel. I don’t think I had ever even heard the name before seeing it for the first time in the game.
Not 16 hours later, I loaded up the Facebook app on my phone to check my notifications in the app. There, as one of the People You May Know, was someone with the name Uriel.
Someone who I did not have any friends in common. Someone who had only three friends. And someone I discovered, after a bit of digging, lives in Mexico.
I frantically dug through my settings to make sure I had already restricted Facebook’s access to my microphone. I also quickly dug into Facebook’s data privacy settings in the app to see if there were duplicate settings. No where had I allowed Facebook to use my microphone.
I don’t know the odds, nor do I care to calculate them, of having that particular name show up in my People You Might Know on Facebook after you’ve said it aloud only once ever. But it seems highly improbable that this happened by chance.