Have you ever been talking about something in a casual conversation with your phone nearby, then the next time you use your phone an advert pops up about that same item?
A reporter over at the sun newspaper decided to do a little test and see if this was in fact true! Are our phones listening in to our conversations?
Think about it, modern devices are now constantly tuned in to listen to us, for example Alexa with the ‘Alexa’ command or Google with the ‘Hello Google’ command.
This means that our devices including cell phones, have to listen to us 24/7 to be ready for when you want to voice search something, or ask it a question.
This is also the case for the hundreds of pointless apps people download, you without thinking granted them access to use your camera and microphone.
Social network apps have been using your microphone to listen to keywords for example, boys clothes, or new cars etc.
Miranda Knox a reporter from the Sun delved deeper into this with a few experiments of her own, this is what she found:
Miranda had figured out that phone apps like Bixby and Siri were indeed culprits, along with the Twitter and Facebook apps.
“It’s a question I’ve been asking for a while after seeing adverts for things I’ve been talking about – but not searching – popping up on my phone.” Said Miranda.
“So I decided to investigate and run a scientific experiment to find out why I was getting these ads, and prove my theory one way or another.”
She decided to compile a list of obscure topics that she has never searched for, and started to talk about them with a friend whilst her cell phone was nearby.
Vegan food, Business cards and Spandex were the test topics of the day!
Within days Miranda was inundated with ads whilst browsing social networks and the internet. It started with 50% off new business cards, the same thing she was just talking to with a friend. Creepy eh? Coincidence? maybe.
It didn’t stop there, bear in mind Miranda eats meat and isn’t a Vegan, she just used this topic to talk about because obviously it is something that isn’t in her life.
Woe and behold later that day she was targeted with healthy Vegan meal planners, still a coincidence? It is starting to look true now! Not so paranoid any more.
Now she was tuned into looking at the adverts popping up, she could keep tabs on more items she was targeted.
The following day Miranda had a conversation with her husband about maybe purchasing a new armchair for the living room, I think you can by now guess what happened? Yes, her phone was listening in and the next adverts she saw were for furniture!
Although furniture adverts are fairly common it is just a bit to much of a coincidence, that the adverts matched up with her conversations so she stepped it up a little.
She started to talk with her little sister about University accommodation, that very same day her sister got in touch.
“Later, my freaked-out sister messaged me a screenshot of an advert she’d got on her own social media – for student housing.”
Mirandas test may not be 100% proof but I’m pretty convinced, are you?
Dr Peter Henway, a senior security consultant for cyber-security firm Asterix said:
“Our phones are meant to only record when we issue the right trigger word, like ‘Hey Siri’ or ‘Okay Google’, but because it needs to listen for these commands, it always has an ear open”
Another cyber expert Edward Whittingham, founder of Defence Works sounds even more convinced saying:
“I’m not surprised that people are receiving targeted ads based on their conversations – it’s happened to me too,”
“There’s no question as to whether or not our phones can listen to us, but the million-dollar question is are they? The answer – we don’t know.”
“Only a few weeks ago I was talking to my wife about the parking on our road and when I accessed Facebook the following morning I saw an advertisement to rent car spaces out in the local area- including the exact name of the town in which I live.”
“Imagine how much more valuable advertising is to a company selling a product when they know, with a fair amount of accuracy, that you’re actively interested in that product?”
“There lies the incentive and motivation for listening to our conversations.”
“There are some arguments to say that seeing these adds could be based around a probability phenomenon – you might think that you are being listened to because the adverts are so accurate, but we have to also remember the amount of data that these organisations hold about us that can help them.”
Worried about your cell phone eavesdropping on your conversations?
It would be a good idea to turn off the option ‘allow Siri when locked’ on Apple devices and turn off Bixby and ‘ok Google’ on Android.
For individual social apps and any app in general, you would have to individually turn the microphone off for each one in settings.
And if you are in the mega paranoid bracket, simply delete these apps!
Miranda contacted Facebook for questioning, their response was:
“It wasn’t newsworthy and that they fully deny any allegations”