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Are Advertisers Tapping Phones?

Are Advertisers Tapping Phones

We’ve all been there... You have a conversation with a friend about something, and then the very thing you were talking about pops up as an ad on your phone the next day. Genius or creepy? As marketers, we’re often asked if brands use our phones and other devices to listen in on personal conversations for intel on which ads to serve. So we decided to do some digging to get to the bottom of this once and for all!

Can advertisers listen to you?

Technically, yes. According to Michelle De Mooy, Acting Director of the Center for Democracy and Technology’s Privacy & Data Project, “smartphones are small tracking devices. We may not think of them like that because they’re very personal devices—they travel with us, they sleep next to us. But they are in fact collectors of a vast amount of information, including audio information.”

Any time you use your smartphone or other devices, it is important to remember that they are not private and that they are capable of collecting and storing large amounts of data in the cloud. Though companies use Terms of Service and Privacy Agreements to ensure that they are protecting our information, most people don’t read the fine print of these agreements and, therefore, do not know what information is at risk.

While governmental services, such as the Federal Trade Commission, monitor companies to make sure they are not wrongfully using private information, advancing technology continues to make consumer protection all the more difficult.

But do they really need to listen in?

No. In fact, many internet users don’t know the extent to which they are already targeted online without the use of private audio bytes.

While some companies are able to record and store what we say, specific messages can appear for a number of reasons, including remarketing ads made possible with the help of browser cookies. Cookies are used by websites to track your visits and activity, store account information, maintain online shopping carts and keep tabs on other websites you have visited recently.

According to CBS News, Google has trackers on about 76% of websites while Facebook “watches” us on 23% of sites. It doesn’t stop there. Google also has access to “70% of credit and debit card transactions in the United States;" everywhere you’ve ever been via location tracking; what pictures you’ve taken (and deleted); what you’ve searched, watched and listened to; when you work out; etc. Facebook stores all of your information based on what you like, the messages you send (including emojis) and every social media platform you’ve ever connected to your account.

Basically, everything we do utilizing our handy-dandy devices can easily be data-mined by large corporations to help identify trends and solve business problems. While this may seem creepy, it’s also so your internet experience can be better tailored to your interests without an influx of highly-irrelevant ads or information.

Has anyone admitted to using data collected via audio listening?

Google, Facebook, Apple and a number of other companies have all denied using cellphone microphones to collect information with the intent to serve ads. According to BBC News, “Google has even said it ‘categorically’ does not use what it calls ‘utterances’—the background sounds before a person says, ‘OK Google,’ to activate voice recognition—for advertising or any other purpose. It also said it does not share audio acquired in that way with third parties.”

Timothy Powderly, Apple’s Director of Federal Government Affairs says, “The customer is not our product, and our business model does not depend on collecting vast amounts of personally identifiable information to enrich targeted profiles marketed to advertisers.” The tech mogul goes on to explain that the iPhone displays a visual alert when Siri is listening (as the result of someone’s request) and that developers are also required to incorporate the same explicit visual cue into each and every new app created.

Still not buying it?

Though companies deny, deny, deny, people still feel like they are being audibly monitored. As Rockwell and Michael Jackson once said, “I always feel like somebody's watching me, and I got no privacy!”

If you want to be proactive in protecting your private information, here are a few things you can do:

  • Stick to using only a set of particular, necessary apps, and be careful which ones you grant microphone access to.
  • Make sure your privacy settings are always up-to-date and don’t simply rely on the default settings.
  • You can even go into Google to listen to and delete what it has recorded of you. Click HERE to learn how!

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