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Facebook Unveils Controversial Audio Recognition Feature In Status Updates

Facebook Unveils Controversial Audio Recognition Feature in Status Updates
By: Martin Blanc
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Facebook, Inc. (FB) announced a new feature that uses a device’s microphone to recognize audio files being played in the background and enables users to share their media activity via status updates. The social network unveiled details of the new feature in a post on Facebook yesterday, highlighting some of the advantages of the feature, which is said to be highlighted prominently on Facebook’s mobile app.

The unique aspect about the service is that it will not just tag music files, but will also identify and allow users to share other media content including videos and live TV in status updates that show on friends’ News Feed. Facebook said it had structured the technology behind the feature to search its database and recognize songs, TV shows, and even live cable programming in a matter of just seconds.

The Menlo Park, California-based company is also using APIs from other music services such as Spotify, Deezer, and Rdio, through which users can click on tagged links and listen to 30-second previews. For video, while no direct links to play content will be given at the moment, users will be able to see the name and episode of the particular TV show from a database of around 160 US channels, and will be provided a link to the show’s Facebook page.

The new feature will be rolled out to Facebook users in the US over the next few weeks, and would eventually encompass all of its global users.

Another attractive proposition touted by Facebook’s newest feature is the fact that it would be able to search for live sports games being aired on TV, which would encourage greater debate on such topics in real-time.

Competition Heating Up

In recent times, social media giants’ interest in the music space has seen a surge, and for valid reasons: social networks such as Facebook and Twitter Inc. (TWTR) have found it quite challenging to monetize their music feature, and are far behind Apple Inc. (AAPL), with its industry-leading iTunes platform.

Twitter has made it very clear that it wants to have a hefty presence in the music sphere, with fresh news that it could be lining up a $700 million acquisition bid for SoundCloud Ltd, the Germany-based music sharing service, with close to 280 million active listeners.

The move comes as Facebook also shifts focus towards incorporating consumers’ entertainment preferences to its platform. Facebook is also aiming to directly compete with existing players in the music ID space and could emerge as a serious challenger to audio-recognition players like SoundHound Inc. and UK-based Shazam Entertainment, which is by far the most popular music ID service with around 90 million active users.

Twitter has been the industry leader when it comes to discussion about movies, TV shows, and music, with the microblogging service announcing a partnership with Billboard to provide music charts on the Twitter platform. But Facebook essentially wants a greater presence in our lives, and is expanding services to include entertainment and news, evident from its recent launch of the Paper app.

The company is also developing its own version of Snapchat’s ephemeral messaging service to share personal photos and videos, and revive the slowdown in growth of its teenage users. The new audio-recognition feature could do well to lure such young users. But the real value of the latest roll out from Menlo Park is the opportunity to obtain massive amounts of user data related to entertainment preferences.

With more music and TV-related discussions and engagement on its platform, Facebook has set itself up well to leverage the valuable data in monetizing its user base through advertisers and will be able to better target ads for particular users by identifying market trends.

In its post yesterday, the company said almost 5 billion status updates with emoticons signaling user’s feelings have so far been shared on the social network, and the new feature will only add to its appeal and humanize the Facebook experience.

Challenges and Threats

While the opportunity in music and video content sharing is said to be gargantuan for Facebook, the new feature also comes with its own set of controversies. Critics are pointing towards issues of data privacy, and argue that the feature could encourage spying on users, and eavesdropping on personal conversations, with the added risk of a hacking scandal involving open microphones gathering audio.

Facebook has already said that the audio files would never be stored and would only be used for matching purposes. Furthermore, once the feature has identified the audio, it will be up to users to share the information in their status update through the click of a button. The company is focused on rolling out the feature in a transparent way, given the hefty criticism it received last year over sharing Instagram user data with advertisers.

Some analysts also cite problems ahead in making the audio feature ubiquitous, noting that Facebook’s current music database is not as extensive as Shazam’s, and would not be able to quickly identify less popular songs, hampering its growth prospects.

With Facebook’s renewed indication of its ambition in content discovery and user engagement through additional features, competitors could threaten the move with their own plans. Twitter, for example, could strike deals or acquire companies like Shazam and SoundHound. With all that said and done, expect a much more immersive entertainment experience in the social media space.

What do you think about our views on Facebook's latest feature? Leave your thoughts in the comments' section below, and our analyst will join in as soon as possible.

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