Is your phone REALLY listening to you? Tech expert explains why some online ads seem a bit too casual
You haven’t seen your friend in ages and the pub chat is flowing. He just proposed to his girlfriend and of course the conversation immediately turned into a Las Vegas bachelorette party.
He goes to the gents and leaves two empty pints on the table, but promises a trip to the bar on the way back. You pick up your phone to pass the time… and there it is: ‘Vacation Holidays from £2,000’.
That cold shiver over you is not the breeze from the door. This isn’t the first time it’s happened. And there is only one conclusion, right?
Ever had a conversation with a friend and received targeted ads based on your chat? You may think your phone is listening to you…
It actually turns out that your phone compares aggregated metadata to people in the same GPS location as you
Have you ever had a conversation with a friend and received targeted ads that seem a bit overpriced?
But rest assured, it’s not because your phone is listening to you – it doesn’t have to, it’s already getting more than enough information from you.
The same happened Robert G Reevewhose Twitter thread explaining why he received toothpaste ads was shared Instagram.
The privacy technology expert explained how he started receiving specific ads for a brand of toothpaste he used at his mother’s house after staying there for a week, despite never speaking about or googling this brand .
He claims that all our smarphone apps collect a huge amount of data from our phones, which data aggregators pay to get from everywhere.
This means things like our location, demographics, unique device identifier, and what discount code we use at a store, for example, is a dataset for sale.
But if your phone is regularly in the same GPS location as another phone, data aggregators will notice.
They then begin to reconstruct the web of people you interact with on a regular basis and the advertisers can compare your interests and purchase and browsing history with those of those around you.
Essentially: It starts showing you different ads based on the people around you, such as your family, friends, and even colleagues.
The logic behind this is that it shows you ads for things you don’t necessarily want, but simply because it knows someone you interact with on a regular basis and might like.
This can then start a conversation about that product – for example in the case of Robert toothpaste.
So basically what we give our phones is subconsciously cheaper and more powerful.
Instead of our social media apps “listening” to us – which Robert says is a “conspiracy theory” that has been “constantly disproven” – they just compare aggregated metadata.
Apple’s iOS 14 feature now notifies you every time your microphone or camera turns on.
When your phone’s microphone has been used recently, a small orange dot will appear in the top right corner of the screen. If your camera is recording, it will also be green.
If you want to be extra sure that your apps can’t listen to you, open the settings app and tap privacy.
Once you’re there, click on microphone or camera and turn off the toggle for apps that don’t use the camera or microphone.
If you change your mind and want to give permission back, just follow the same steps, but flip the switches.
For Android users, you can follow the same steps in your settings by tapping personal, privacy, and safety, then App permissions.