Friday 11 July, 2014
In late May 2014, Facebook added a new feature to its mobile app which instantly sparked controversy. The feature is called Identity TV and Music and it uses your mobile’s microphone to identify ambient sounds from television, music or movies so that you can show them in your updates.
The feature analyzes audio cues that it picks up from your mobile’s microphone and tries to match them with media stored in its database. The database contains millions of songs, movies and television shows from over 160 different stations. Controversy aside, this is pretty remarkable technology.
Identity TV and Music is off by default but you can turn it on through a pop-up screen that asks you if you’d like to use it. You only have to opt-in once and then it automatically includes what you’re watching or listening to in your updates. It usually only takes a few seconds to identify the audio and it has a pretty high success rate.
Of course, the feature is controversial. Just reading the above you probably felt like it goes beyond the bounds of reasonable privacy. Facebook hasn’t had a great track record when it comes to protecting its users’ privacy, and this is why the new feature is setting off alarms everywhere.
Within days of the feature’s release, hundreds of thousands of Facebook users signed a petition asking Facebook to pull the feature. This reflects the general distrust people feel about Facebook, social media, online privacy and mobile features that allow third parties access.
Common Sense and Online Privacy
There is an article on the Forbes website by Kashmir Hill entitled, ‘Facebook Wants To Listen In On What You’re Doing.’ I think this title alone shows the environment not of caution but of hysteria that surrounds online privacy concerns. Of course, Facebook isn’t interested in what you’re doing. The feature has a clear purpose, to make sharing easier. The social media site is trying to take advantage of the ‘second screen’ trend, where users are sharing what they’re watching or listening to with their friends.
The petition makes me feel like Facebook users may be a bit too entitled. Notwithstanding the fact that it’s an opt-in feature that you can simply not opt in to, people forget that your social media profile doesn’t belong to you. None of the content in your profile or updates is actually yours. You’re supplying your information of your own free will to strangers. If you opt in to the feature, you’re giving Facebook that access.
However, I agree that a smartphone’s capability to listen through the microphone is certain creepy. Everyone should be careful about who they give access to.