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Is FACEBOOK spying on US?

The belief that Facebook is actively listening to people through their phones has become a full-on phenomenon. Facebook has, of course, denied it does this. That has done little to dampen the ongoing paranoia around the theory. “It listens to key words. If you say a word enough times, the algorithm catches those words and it sets off targeted ads. Most people using Facebook understand that the social network is a giant data-collecting machine. Some users put Facebook’s monstrous size and unknown goals out of mind, but others find it hard to dismiss. How much does Facebook know about them? What’s Facebook using that information for? And how much of these concerns are paranoia, and how much is real?

In many ways, of course Facebook is spying on you,” said Brandie Nonnecke, research and development manager at the University of California Berkeley’s Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society. “It’s not doing it for malicious reasons. It’s trying to tailor content to you and advertisers.” There’s a reason Facebook gets a worse rap for this than, say, Google. With Google, it’s just ads. With Facebook, it’s personal. The ads and creepy suggested friends and prompts to celebrate holidays that may or may not apply all add up to something more unsettling. Barring leaving Facebook and Instagram a choice that would be untenable or extreme for many even privacy-aware users don’t feel like there’s much they can do about it.

Facebook’s just-creepy-enough ads and suggestions are perfectly built to cater to the psychological tendencies we already have. It’s part of the reason why the idea of an all-knowing social network has such staying power even when aspects of Facebook’s reaclike the microphone theory Lama favors—have been debunked. “In their thinking about these kinds of online privacy issues, people rely on heuristics—mental shortcuts or little rules of thumb,” said Shyam Sundar, a professor at Penn State who studies the social and psychological effects of online communication.

All of this wouldn’t be that big an issue if we knew what Facebook was doing. But it’s still murky. Even with all the research explaining how humans interpret these kinds of coincidences, anything could be going on behind closed doors in Menlo Park. One reason people are so sensitive to potential intrusion from Facebook is that they have the sense that something is off. Since Facebook isn’t exactly forthcoming with details, users assume the worst. And they’re not necessarily wrong.

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