Is Facebook listening to conversations? This is a controversy that has arisen before, and now it’s back, this time in reference to its photo-sharing network, Instagram. The head of Instagram assured users this week in an interview that Facebook isn’t listening to conversations—and neither is Instagram, of course.
Are Instagram and Facebook listening to conversations?
CBS interviewed Instagram chief Adam Mosseri this week. It was his first TV interview in the U.S. since he started heading up the social network. CBS This Morning co-host Gayle King asked him point blank why she sees ads on Instagram for products she has never even searched for.
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She said sometimes she is having “a private conversation about something I’m interested in seeing or buying,” and then an ad for the product will suddenly appear in her Instagram feed. She said she hasn’t searched for it or talked to anyone about it online. She also said she new he would never admit that Instagram and Facebook are listening to conversations.
Dumb luck or subconscious interest?
Mosseri did admit that many users have the same question, so he attempted to explain what causes ads to appear in Instagram feeds. He said this can happen in two different ways. One is “dumb luck,” which he claims does happen, although we have to wonder if “dumb luck” can really happen as often as it seems to and affect as many people as it seems to.
He said the other reason ads appear is because users have interacted with that particular “type of content more recently.” He said this can happen because when a subject is top of mind, it affects not only private conversations but online activities as well. He suggested that perhaps a user sees a restaurant on Facebook or Instagram, and interest in that restaurant becomes top of mind because they really like it.
“Maybe it’s subconscious and then it bubbles up later,” he said. “I think this kind of thing happens often in a way that’s really subtle.”
He added that Instagram doesn’t read users’ messages or listen to their microphones, which he said “would be super problematic for a lot of different reasons.” However, he also said he realized that King wouldn’t believe him about Instagram and Facebook listening to conversations.
King and Mosseri also discussed the 2020 elections, which is becoming a hot topic as Google faces accusations of attempting to manipulate the result. They talked about what Instagram is planning to do about fake videos which have been edited to sound and appear real. Other topics they covered included whether Facebook has gotten too big and should be split up.