Ever get an ads popup that seems like it your phone was listening to your conversion? These ads seem a little too targeted to be a coincidence.
Everyone has a story about targeted ads that are targeted a little too precisely. Do our phones listen to us for ads? It’s human nature to draw links and create patterns, even where there are none. Do our phones have the technical capability to stalk us in this manner, anyway? Let’s find out. First, we set about questioning a number of people with strange stories of talking something over with a friend and getting hit with an ad shortly afterward. While the people and their stories are real, we shortened their surnames to accommodate their desire for privacy.
True Stories of Eerie Phone Ads
Chad W., 23
«So, one night my girlfriend and I left our phones by the bedside. The next morning, I was watching my girlfriend scroll through memes for a while. She was getting tons of ads for Viagra, then I checked out my phone and so was I! At first, I thought it was a totally normal thing. But then I made a joke about it to a friend and he just shook his head at me for some reason. So, why am I getting all these ads?»
Janice J., 27
«I left my phone on during a visit to my therapist one day. Then, I was scrolling through Facebook and saw some Wish advertisements. Wish products are always weird so I paid ’em no mind, but then I saw they were different kinds of nooses! What kind of sick joke is this?»
Bridgette R., 20
«I was, like, talking to a friend about my horoscopes and how I had to cancel our night out together because of Mercury retrograde. Just afterward, I started getting ads on books about horoscopes, tarot, and the Church of Scientology! Isn’t that pretty cool?»
Philbert E., 46
«I was looking through my 15-year-old daughter’s phone. For some reason, she was getting ads for baby clothes, pregnancy tests, and other ***! Why is the internet trying to encourage my baby girl to get pregnant?»
Was Any Sleuthing Going On?
While Joe’s phone may have offered the ads due to something it overheard from his girlfriend, that doesn’t necessarily seem so. After all, they might just lean more into targeting people in relationships, or perhaps something in his search history caused him to receive these targeted ads. This might be some evidence in favor of the idea that our phones are listening to us. As for Janice, Wish ads are a shaky basis for making any assumptions on. Everyone knows how strange and random Wish advertisements are. After all, it was pure coincidence when Wish tried to sell me a gimp suit.
Bridgette’s story is a great example of how we make connections that aren’t there. If «Mercury in Gatorade» is a major astrological event, then companies are going to push their astrological and mystical wares more than usual. As for someone being advertised baby stuff, this probably points to their search habits… Perhaps Philbert and his daughter need to have a friendly, non-confrontational chat.
While we’d love to draw a conclusion, the evidence is far from providing one. However, is the technical basis for phones to gather our data there?
Can Our Phones Listen In On Us?
As indicated by activation phrases like ‘Hey Siri’, phones are always listening — they’re inactive until they hear these trigger phrases, though. That rules out Google and Apple from spying on us, at least through the operating system. On the other hand, apps with microphone permission may have free access to your conversations. Examples are Facebook, Snapchat, and similar apps that are known to sell the data of their users. However, we don’t know if they use audio to gather that data.
How To Protect Yourself?
Wrapping your phone in tinfoil may be adequate to muffle your audio and disrupt any recording. Not to mention that it’ll help deflect the CIA mind control waves. Putting duck tape over the microphone might also work. Additionally, you can decline to give apps access to your microphone or remove their microphone access when not in use.
Do We Need To Protect Ourselves?
Trying to keep our data to ourselves in the digital world appears more and more like wishing for the return of the horse and buggy. Our best bet might be to embrace our data — we own it, after all. One major presidential candidate has proposed a Data Dividend, where marketers pay you for using your data. So long as there’s proper oversight, the only use of our data is to sell us things that we want more efficiently, after all.
And I’m not just saying that because Mark Zuckerberg has kidnapped my family.