Is your phone REALLY listening to you? Tech expert explains why some online ads seem a little bit too coincidental
You’ve not seen your friend in ages, and the pub chat is flowing. He’s just proposed to his girlfriend and of course talk has immediately turned to a stag do in Las Vegas.
He heads off to the gents leaving two empty pints on the table, but promises a trip to the bar on his way back. You turn to your phone to pass the time… and there it is: ‘Las Vegas holidays starting at £2,000’.
That cold chill running over you is not the breeze from the door. This is not the first time it’s happened. And, there’s only one conclusion, surely?
Ever had a conversation with a friend and get targeted ads based on your chat? You might think your phone is listening to you…
Actually, it turns out that your phone is comparing aggregated metadata with people in the same GPS location as you
Have you ever had a conversation with a friend and received targeted ads that seem a little too on the money?
But rest assured, it’s not because your phone is listening to you – it actually doesn’t need to, it gets more than enough information from you already..
The same thing happened to Robert G. Reeve, whose Twitter-thread explanation of why he was recieving toothpaste ads was shared on Instagram.
The privacy tech expert explained how he started to recieve specific ads for a toothpaste brand he used at his mother’s house after staying there for a week, despite never talking about this brand or googling it.
He claims all of our smarphone apps collect a huge amount of data from our phones which data aggregators pay to pull in from everywhere.
This means that things like our location, demographics, unique device ID and what discount code we use at a shop, for instance, is a dataset for sale.
Butif your phone is regularly in the same GPS location as another phone, data aggregators take note of that.
Then, they start reconstructing the web of people you’re in regular contact with and the advertisers can cross-reference your interests and purchase and browsing history with those around you.
Essentially – it starts showing you different ads based on the people around you, such as your family, friends and even coworkers.
The logic behind this is that it will serve you ads for things you don’t necessarily want, but just because it knows someone who you are in regular contact with and might want it.
This might then spark a conversation about that product – for instance in Robert’s case toothpaste.
So, actually what we give our phones is unconsciously cheaper and more powerful.
Instead of our social media apps ‘listening’ to us – which Robert claims is a ‘conspiracy theory’ which has been ‘debunked over and over again’ – they are just comparing aggregated metadata.
Apple’s iOS 14 feature now lets you know every time your microphone or camera turns on.
When your phone’s microphone was recently accessed, a little orange dot appears in the upper-right hand corner of the screen. If your camera is recording, alternatively this is green.
If you want to make extra sure that your apps cannot listen to you, open the settings app and tap on privacy.
Once you are there click on microphone or camera and switch off the toggle for any apps you don’t use the camera or mic for.
If you change your mind and want to give permission back, just follow the same steps but toggle the switches on.
For Android users you can follow the same steps in your settings by tapping on personal, privacy and safety and then on App Permissions.
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