Blog. Have you ever experienced that you have talked to someone about something, and then got an advertisement for it without having typed in anything online concerning that topic? More and more do get that experience, as some apps listen to your conversations in the physical world. Here’s what you can do about it.
“I was with my family talking about an upcoming holiday in Dubai. And then more of us experienced that very same evening unmotivated advertisements appearing for various trips to and hotels in Dubai. It was a pretty surprising experience, and we talked about whether Facebook is listening. We concluded that the answer is yes. And the following day, there appeared articles about whether Facebook is listening. “
“I talked to my boyfriend about whether to buy a boat. I only talked with him about it and nobody else, wrote nothing about it at all. The following day I got ads for both in my feed. “
And then there are those who have talked about getting ‘wooden floors’ or a ‘scratch in the car’, followed by ‘relevant’ ads.
All four of the above examples are authentic and told to me. And even though Facebook denies it, the number of stories about Facebook and others are listening in on our conversations in real life, IRL, are so many that it can no longer be pure coincidence.
Back in March 2016, BBC revealed the behaviour. The journalist described how she was ironing, when her mother entered the room and told her that friends of the family had been in a motorcycle accident in Thailand. When she later searched online for something completely different, the story came up. She heard lots of similar stories that the smartphone listened in depending on which apps we have given access to the microphone. Both Google and Facebook denied it in the article. Facebook said, however, that they never share data with others without consent. But most of us don’t understand the content of Facebook’s Terms of Conditions when we consent to being on Facebook.
What can you do?
For some these examples clearly exceed the creepyness line, while others may not care. If you think it’s creepy, go to your smartphone settings and check who and how many have access to your microphone. Perhaps you should turn off their access (and then turn on as needed).
A great alternative to Facebook Messenger and Skype (owned by Microsoft) is Wire, which you can use on both your computer and your mobile devices for both chat and internet telephony. They do not harvest your data and sell access to you based on as detailed knowledge about you as possible. They currently live from investment capital but in the future, they will sell a service to companies, so they can use Wire as an internal communication tool like Slack. Wire is headquartered in Switzerland, operates from Berlin and is funded by Skype founder Janus Friis.
Update 5.11.2017: More stories from people who’ve experienced how Facebook is listening in on you http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-41802282
Update: It is technically unlikely that this is happening, says former Facebook employee in Wired, 13th April 2018