22 May 2014

Facebook knows what you’re watching & listening to

Facebook’s phone app will soon be able to listen in to your music and TV shows – and identify them, in a new Shazam-like feature aimed at hoovering up even more of your personal data.

Log on to Facebook these days and you’re likely to see a lot of adverbs in addition to your friends’ status updates.

Maybe someone is “feeling meh”, or “drinking coffee”; maybe they’re even “travelling to Spain” and making you “feel jealous”. Since a new feature was added allowing users to choose options describing their current status, five billion people have made use of it.

In Facebook’s latest update for Android or iOS apps, the current “listening to” option will be expanded further, allowing Facebook to automatically detect your music or TV choice (in the US) through having automatic access to your microphone.

Users of the unrelated Shazam app have been able to do this for some time. The difference is that Facebook users will be asked if they want to share it when they go to update their status. The tech giant is keen to point out that you have to opt in to use this feature, which it says can’t detect conversation, and the word “optional” is even in the title of the press release.

Sharing will make a 30-second clip of your chosen entertainment feature pop up on your friends’ news feed. If it’s a TV show, Facebook will add the season and episode, and a hashtag if applicable.

And Facebook is hoping that this will turn users’ news feeds into a platform on which to discuss what’s on TV in real time. It has sealed deals with 160 US television stations to allow the detection required for this feature.

‘Quicker and easier’ conversations – and data

Lily Hay Newman has pointed out on Slate that the latest update “doesn’t really make sense” from a user’s perspective: “how often are you watching a TV show or movie without knowing what it is?” she wrote.

But aside from making you think twice about listening or watching those guilty pleasures, the new feature is another sign of the company’s attempts to move into the entertainment arena – and hoover up even more valuable data about its users.

At the moment Twitter and its hashtags are where the TV chat happens. But Facebook’s new feature is an attempt to take over the conversation, with the added advantage of an automatic way in through your microphone – with the help of Spotify, Rdio and Deezer APIs to detect the songs. (An API is a computer programme that allows the sharing of data with another website or programme).

“We’re making those conversations quicker and easier by introducing a new way to share and discover music, TV and movies,” said Facebook’s Aryeh Selekman.

Doing so would provide Facebook with hugely valuable information that can be used in targeted advertising – so you are shown adverts of tickets to a live gig of whatever artist you are listening to, for example. TechCrunch reported that data isn’t being used in this way at the moment, however Facebook will collate and use information about the number of times a song or TV programme has been tagged to an artist.

Privacy concerns

Even if you decide not to share the info on your news feed, Facebook will still own the data.

The new feature follows an update to the Facebook app in February, which allows the company to access your text messages and your calendar.

In April, Facebook also bought the company behind Moves fitness app, which tracks your location and movement, and its purchase of the WhatsApp messaging service. The latter prompted a warning from the FTC, which urged Facebook not to forget about their obligations to consumer privacy.

Whether the latest update is “creepy”, as reported in The Register, a “new weapon in the battle against Twitter,” as Techcrunch reported, or worthy of inciting “fear and scepticism”, it is yet another sign of Facebook’s hold over our every waking moment.