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‘I don’t believe you!’ Gayle King quizzes Instagram head over rumors app taps phones

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The head of Instagram tried to convince “CBS This Morning” host Gayle King during an interview airing this week that the photo-sharing app isn’t eavesdropping on her.

Judging by King’s reaction, it didn’t work.

“I don’t believe you!” King said after hearing the answer from Adam Mosseri, who took over at the Facebook-owned platform in October.

King’s interview with Mosseri is set to air on the show at 7 a.m. ET Wednesday, according to CBS.

The interaction, which CBS shared in a video clip Tuesday morning, started with King asking about a common rumor that Instagram and other apps listen in on people’s conversations through their phones’ microphones so the companies can better target advertisements.

“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?” King asked. “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 gonna say you’re not.”

Mosseri responded, as Instagram and Facebook have before, by assuring users that the platforms don’t snoop on their users’ conversations.

“We don’t look at your messages, we don’t listen in on your microphone. Doing so would be super problematic for a lot of different reasons.” Mosseri explained. “But I recognize you’re not going to really believe me.”

Facebook even responded to eavesdropping rumors directly in a statement on its website in 2016, saying that the company “does not use your phone’s microphone to inform ads or to change what you see in News Feed.”

“Some recent articles have suggested that we must be listening to people’s conversations in order to show them relevant ads,” Facebook’s June 2016 statement said. “This is not true. We show ads based on people’s interests and other profile information — not what you’re talking out loud about.”

There are a couple of possible explanations for the ad-targeting phenomenon King and so many others have picked up on, according to Mosseri.

“One is is dumb luck, which could happen,” Mosseri said, suggesting an ad might just happen to be about something King just spoke about. “The second is you might be talking about something because it’s top of mind, because you’ve been interacting with that type of content more recently ... It’s top of mind. Maybe that’s subconscious, then it bubbles up later. I think this kinda happens often in ways that are really subtle.”

Despite Facebook and Instagram’s continued eavesdropping denials, the rumors have lived on for years, CNET reported in May.

“If more users start to feel like they actually are being surveilled through audio, they’ll change their behaviors,” said Syracuse University communications professor Jennifer Grygiel, according to CNET. “So even if it’s untrue, it could impact the way they use apps and their mobile phone and how they engage in ensuring their own privacy.”

A former Facebook engineer has said there would be logistical hurdles even if the company wanted to do nonstop surveillance on its users.

“Constant audio surveillance would produce about 33 times more data daily than Facebook currently consumes,” Antonio García Martínez, the ex-Facebook engineer, wrote in Wired. “Furthermore, such snooping would be eminently detectable, ringing up noticeable amounts of data on your smartphone as Facebook maintained your always-on call to (CEO Mark) Zuckerberg.”

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Jared Gilmour is a McClatchy national reporter based in San Francisco. He covers everything from health and science to politics and crime. He studied journalism at Northwestern University and grew up in North Dakota.
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