The Facebook Ear: Listening In To What’s Around You

Facebook announced a new feature set to launch on its mobile app: the ability to listen to the various sounds in the vicinity of users and automatically recognize music and television shows playing in the background.

The goal of this new feature is to help a user  “tell better stories,” according to Aryeh Selekman, the feature’s product manager, which is another way to say “share more personal information,” which translates to more advertising dollars for Facebook.

Facebook is listening...

Facebook is listening…

But Facebook’s business goals aside, let’s see how it works and what the user benefits are:

According to Facebook, “if you’ve turned the feature on, you’ll see an audio icon moving on the screen when you write a status update. If the feature finds a match, you can then choose to add the song, TV show or movie to your post.” The app “can recognize a live show within 15 seconds.”

For recognizing TV shows it seems that the benefit to users is a bit, well, minor. If users really want to share what they’re watching it will take them less than 15 seconds to type in the name of the TV show.  It doesn’t take a lot of effort to know what show is being watched. Listening to music, however, is different. The success of recognition apps like Shazam show us that there are many cases where people use the recognition: listening to the radio, at a public place, etc. Doing this recognition inside the Facebook app instead of flipping back and forth is much simpler. The benefit for music recognition is clear.

Two final notes:

1. Facebook doesn’t mention if the microphone “listens” to ambient noise whenever the app is on or only when a user is writing a status. This could be problematic as the information is shared anonymously to Facebook regardless of whether the user decides to share it. According to the WSJ Blog: “Even if users decide not to share what they’re hearing or watching, Facebook will hold onto the data in anonymous form, keeping tabs on how many users watched particular shows.”

2. The feature can be turned on and off by the user, but will it be automatically be opted in with the update?

I don’t know about you, but having Facebook listen to and share with advertisers the noise around me feels a bit creepy. Am I overreacting?




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