At a Memorial Day picnic with friends, a conversation went to dental implants. I know, exciting recreational conversation! The next morning, I saw this ad on my phone.
Note, I live in Algonquin AND the conversation also addressed how dental implants are COSTLY.
Another time, in a networking meeting, someone mentioned a charity for veterans that I had never heard of. Minutes later, in front of all, that charity’s ad showed up on my Instagram feed (Facebook owns Instagram).
These are examples of how I know, without a doubt, your phone listens to you.
I understand “tracking” your phone use and allowing ads to show based on your activity. I work with demographic-based, and “remarketing” (aka retargeting) ads every day. If you type something into your phone, it is noted by Apple, Google and Facebook and you will see ads for the products. Here’s a recent example after I had been searching for a new softball bat. I had visited JustBats.com, Easton.com and had searched on Google and eBay.
But the listening is my concern. Voice assistants like Siri, Amazon Alexa or Google Home obviously have to listen for your keyword. But most of these companies are denying that they listen to any other words. To me, evidence shows they are lying.
- From USA Today: No, Facebook doesn’t secretly listen via your microphone to target ads at you
- From Facebook itself: Facebook Does Not Use Your Phone’s Microphone for Ads or News Feed Stories
- Statement from Google: “We do not use ambient sound from any device to target ads.”
- From Reuters: Apple tells lawmakers iPhones are not listening in on consumers
- Maybe one honest company: Amazon Admits Listening To Alexa Conversations: Why It Matters
What should you do about it?
There are some some things you can do, such as turning off your device’s microphone. How To Stop Your iPhone From Listening To You
But obviously, smart phones, computers and other devices are here to stay. Can you imagine your life without them?
In a recent article from CNET, the author says to “assume that anything you say to your digital assistant might very well be heard by someone else in the future.” Yet, the author is not concerned. He gives an example of turning off a dining room light. I’m not a conspiracist, but looking at human history, there’s no way this amount of data and power ends up in good-hearted peoples’ hands indefinitely. Our culture is already policing language. They dig up quotes from 30 years ago to get people fired and blackballed in society. Imagine what you might say today that will be looked poorly upon in another 30 years.
While I expect to eventually see one of these giant data companies abuse our privacy, I am taking that risk. I am not willing to give up the convenience of today for a fearful possibility tomorrow. I see no signs of other options, or coordinated efforts from the public for change. So I guess we’re all leaving it in God’s hands – or the CEOs of Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon.