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Are Advertisers Listening to us Through our Phones??? | SignalWire

Are Advertisers Listening to us Through our Phones???

Are Advertisers Listening to us Through our Phones???

Hopefully not.

I think anyone with a smartphone has had this thought before…”are the advertisers listening to what I’m saying???” It seems too eerie to be a coincidence. You talk about needing a specific item, you never look it up or email about it, and yet there it is: an ad for that same item on the right side of your Facebook timeline.

It’s happened to me so many times I just had to write about it. The other day, I talked about needing those UV glasses that filter out the blue light from the computer. I didn’t text about it or Google them or anything, just a random thought I said out loud. An hour later I see an add in the middle of my Instagram feed for the same glasses I was talking about! Spooky.

A few days later the same thing happened but it was an ad for a Chromebook.

What is going on here?

In terms of technical ability, it is definitely possible for companies to hack into your phone microphone. In fact, for any well skilled hacker, it’s really easy.

But do they?

Sandy Parakilas, former Facebook operations manager, says probably not. He claims that advertisers have so many other ways of keeping tabs on you that it’s not necessary. He also says that gathering and analyzing that many audio streams would be way too expensive and take up a lot of space. We would definitely notice our phone bills going up from all the data being used.

Additionally, if Facebook used used trigger-word technology (like Alexa and Google Home do) to trigger ads, our phones would operate much more slowly. Facebook currently has about one million trigger words on their online tracking. To listen for each and every one of these trigger words would be daunting to say the least. The speech-to-text translation code would have to run on your actual cell phone…not exactly easy for it to do.

Perakilas also says that advertisers already know almost everything about us just from gathering what we post on social media and search for online, so there really is no need to even try listening to our conversations.

Google has the widest access to this data, with trackers on 76% of websites, (Facebook only has trackers on 23%), including the sites that your friends go to. They can even track 70% of all debit card and credit card transactions.

The Facebook app even asks for user permission to read our text messages.

Both Google and Facebook have released public statements promising that they do not listen to our IRL conversations.

In the US it’s not very legal for companies to be recording any audio of conversations without explicit consent. However there are quite a few loopholes to get around this. For example, people know that using the trigger word “Ok, Google” is going to result in audio being recorded and that audio, obtained legally, could be used for targeted advertising. Hundreds of other apps simply ask for access to your microphone, and often times they get a yes. However, big companies, like Facebook, would be taking a huge risk hacking into phones and listening to people chat all day in terms of legality and public appearance.

However, it is really cheap and easy to track your location. And advertisers do it all the time. For example, Staples tracks your location every time you visit their website and will only send people coupons if they are within 20 miles of their store.

So in reality,

I probably got an advertisement for blue light blocking glasses because they saw me buy sunglasses online two weeks ago.

And I probably got an ad for a Chromebook because they saw me go to Best Buy or because one of my family members had recently googled it.

So they could be listening to us, but they really don’t need to when they have access to literally everything else that we do.

So it’s probably just a coincidence.