Instagram head Adam Mosseri denied that the social media platform listens to its users’ conversations during a recent interview with Gayle King on “CBS This Morning.”
In a clip of the interview published Tuesday, King directly addresses widespread concerns about privacy and data collection on various social media platforms — and a popular theory about phone microphones and ads.
The “CBS This Morning” host asked Mosseri, who was named the new head of Instagram last year, whether the social media app documents its users’ conversations in some way to tailor ads.
“Can you help me understand how I can be having a private conversation with someone about something I’m interested in seeing or buying, and an advertisement for that will pop up on my Instagram feed?” she asked.
She continued, “I haven’t searched for it, I haven’t talked to anybody about it, I swear, I think you guys are listening – I know you’re going to say you’re not.”
Mosseri immediately responded by noting that he gets asked that question “all the time,” before offering up two explanations: It’s either “dumb luck,” or the user is talking about a topic that’s subconsciously on their mind because they previously interacted with related content on Instagram.
“So maybe you’re really into food and restaurants, you saw a restaurant on Facebook or Instagram, you maybe liked the thing — it’s top-of-mind, maybe that’s subconscious, and then it bubbles up later,” he said.
Mosseri later continued, “We don’t look at your messages, we don’t listen on your microphone. Doing so would be super problematic for a lot of different reasons.”
King replied, “I’m not the first one that said that. I don’t believe you; I don’t know how this happens repeatedly.”
Facebook, which acquired Instagram in 2012, has long faced scrutiny over privacy, transparency, its data-sharing practices and a lack of protection for election integrity.
Many people have additionally theorized that Facebook records its users via microphones on their phones to tailor ads. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg rejected that notion, calling it a “conspiracy theory,” during his testimony before Congress last year.
Former Facebook product manager Antonio García Martínez argued in a 2017 article published in Wired that the company does not record user conversations and doesn’t need to, since “it is tracking you in other—no less insidious—ways you’re not aware of.”
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